South end residents talk healthy living

The Citizen of Laconia
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LACONIA — In an effort that Mayor Mike Seymour said he'd like replicated citywide, residents of the South End and the neighbors of Wyatt Park turned out Tuesday evening to begin exploring ways of breaking down barriers to healthy living and active living.

Sponsored by the Laconia Parks and Recreation Department and Lakes Region Healthy Eating Active Living, which is a part of the nationwide HEAL program, the event attracted some two dozen attendees to the Woodland Heights Elementary School, among them Seymour, who worked through five exercises designed to "identify opportunities to support access to healthy foods and safe, physical activity" in the area served by Woodland Heights School.

In 2012, the city received a two-part HEAL grant, the first of which is $10,000 in cash while the second is $60,000 worth of training and technical assistance over the two-year grant period.

According to HEAL, the grants are intended to "help communities identify and implement municipal strategies — such as adding bike paths, sidewalks, and farmers markets — to provide more choices for residents to eat healthy and be physically active. Special consideration was given to rural towns and urban neighborhoods with health, social, and economic disparities (factors that lead to higher incidences of obesity and chronic diseases)."

Amy Lovisek, who is the city's assistant director of parks and facilities, has said some suggestions to make South End residents healthier and safer included developing community gardens, enhancing "walkability" in the area; increasing access to produce in convenience stores; and establishing neighborhood-watch programs.

Ultimately, the HEAL grant is expected to pay for the implementation of both a "healthy eating" as well as an "active-living" program in the Woodland Heights- Wyatt Park area and Seymour said that based on what he saw, that goal was in sight.

The mayor thanked Lovisek and Lisa Morris of the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health for being the lead organizers of Tuesday's forum, saying he was pleased with the turnout as well as with the discussions he took part in and heard.

Seymour said he came away with a greater understanding of the challenges some people face in getting access to healthy foods, especially if they don't drive, noting that while a farmer's market can fit that bill once a week during the summer, fall and winter, a convenience store, if it carried more wholesome offerings, would be more convenient still.

"This is a good first step," Seymour told Lovisek and Morris, "I'd like to see it done citywide." Toward a more active community, Seymour said the Laconia City Council has been looking at ways to make the city more "bike friendly" and other ways it can support efforts to get people up and moving.

Morris said the HEAL program has been going on in Laconia for four years and involves several partners, all of whom have the singular mission of reducing chronic obesity.

By educating the public about the food and exercise choices and opportunities they already have, the goal, said Lovisek is "to make the healthy choice, the easy choice."

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