Chesco accepts challenge to increase walking

Chester County has been selected as one of 50 members of the national HealthyCommunity50 in the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge.

With the recognition comes a $10,000 community seed award to undertake projects highlighted within the application process, and by participating in the challenge, the county is in the running to receive further prize awards, up to $500,000, that will support its proposed program, WalkWorks ChesCo, a county press release said.

The Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge, a partnership between the Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association, and the National Association of Counties, will award $1.5 million overall in prizes to small and mid-sized cities, counties and federally-recognized tribes that are able to show measurable health improvements over several years, based on each proposed program.

“Our proposed program, WalkWorks ChesCo, is designed to promote, educate and empower residents to adopt a healthier lifestyle,” Chester County Commissioners’ Chairman Terence Farrell said in the release. “We’re asking individuals throughout the county to make the decision to walk, and we will make that decision easier by creating programs and environments that favor walking.”

Hundreds of city governments, local municipalities, health departments, educational institutions and other public/private entities applied to be a part of the challenge. The HealthyCommunity50 members, which include Allentown and York County in Pennsylvania, were chosen based on plans to improve the health of their communities in at least one of five domains: healthy behaviors; community safety; built environment; social/economic factors and environmental exposures.

“By many measures Chester County is healthy, and we’re even acknowledged as the healthiest county in the state,” County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone said in the release. “WalkWorks ChesCo will be available to people of all demographic backgrounds, and the program will focus on those areas where residents are experiencing higher rates of poverty and chronic disease, and lower rates of physical activity.”

Commissioner Michelle Kichline added that while WalkWorks Chesco is a county-led program, partners would include a wide group of community organizations throughout the county including municipalities, YMCAs, foundations and non-profits, hospitals and primary healthcare centers. “And as the program grows, so too will the number of partners involved, including chambers of commerce, private sector companies and schools,” Kichline said in the release.

Kim Liao, the chronic disease and injury prevention coordinator for the Chester County Health Department, said the initiative, which will run for two years, would have three main strategies: establishing routes for citizens to walk, encouraging walking groups to form or expand, and creating events and challenges that will motivate people to walk. She said the Health Department would be reaching out to organizations that already promote walking – or might be inspired to do so – as well as companies and faith-based groups.

All selected HealthyCommunity50 members will be visited by an expert judge panel to answer questions, understand the community’s approach to the project first-hand and speak with the members of the team. At the conclusion of the challenge, the programs most able to show measurable change will be eligible for prize awards from $25,000 - $500,000. Participants will be judged on their own progress and will not be competing against each other. For more information, visit, the release said.

“At the Aetna Foundation, we’re seeking to reward innovation for communities implementing new ways to improve health outcomes,” Garth Graham, the Aetna Foundation president, said in the release. “We want the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge to serve as a catalyst for collaboration in local communities around the country working to move the needle in combating health disparities.”



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