Christina Ingram and Johnny Wright live about eight blocks from Secombe Park in downtown San Bernardino. But when they want to visit a park, they both ride the bus to a park that is six miles away in the nearby city of Highland. They feel that San Bernardino is dangerous. "Police are at the apartments across the street from me all the time, and the other day we heard gunshots," says Ingram.
This level of violence is what Evelyn Trevino, Program Coordinator for Healthy Communities in San Bernardino is trying to get policy makers to understand. "Each of the numerous Healthy City efforts underway in the County address crime and safety, and recognize that it is a major factor in why people don't use active transportation modes (walk, bicycle, or use transit)."
According to Trevino, "We won't improve our populations' health by doing what we've been doing." Community health programs have historically focused energy on educating the individual. Through community activities and classes, programs sought to change the health habits of people, one person at a time. The goal was that once people learned how to live healthier, collectively the community would be more active, eat healthier and give up tobacco. But, communities like San Bernardino have become only marginally healthier through these types of efforts. The 2010 San Bernardino Community Indicators Report found that less than one-third of students achieve state physical fitness goals. This statistic has improved from only 24 percent of 9th graders who were considered "physically fit" in 2005, to 33 percent in 2009. But, this is still less than the average for the state.
Trevino says the problem is the environment is not supporting the healthy habits of the individual. People may learn how to make better choices, but once they get home, their environment pulls them back into the unhealthy state they were before. For example, housing developments that are not within walking distance of a grocery store or your drive home from work takes you past more fast food restaurants than grocery stores. It is more difficult to make a healthy choice when your environment is working against you. Healthy Communities and Trevino are working to "make a healthy choice an easy choice" by working with planning agencies and policy makers to change the way San Bernardino and surrounding cities are built.
But the solution may be more complex than just building a park close to housing developments. Safety is also a major concern. Ingram and Wright agree that having more healthy food choices would be helpful, as they both have recently modified their diet and incorporated exercise into their daily routine. But in order to take a walk, it must be during the day and not alone. "I won't walk without [Johnny]," Ingram says.
Healthy Communities is making strides in San Bernardino County. As of today, 17 out of 24 cities and towns (and some unincorporated areas) have adopted their own Healthy Communities programs. Funded through the County's general fund, the program gives "seed" money to smaller jurisdictions to start their own programs. "Once a city gets started, it seems to have a lot of appeal," says Trevino. Although there are no statistics to show that the program is working, people seem to be motivated by other factors, "it makes sense and resonates with people," Trevino says.
Trevino knows change doesn't happen overnight. "One difficulty is that I have to recognize that real change might take a generation."