Public health is a team sport — and works best when it’s planned for.

In a nutshell, that’s the idea behind Plan4Health — a partnership between APHA and the American Planning Association aiming to make communities healthier through the help of strategic partnerships. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Plan4Health’s 18 local coalitions — including APHA Affiliates and APA chapters — seek to improve health in two distinct ways: nutrition and physical fitness.

How will Plan4Health improve health and what partners will it bring to the table? Public Health Newswire caught up with APHA Associate Executive Director Susan Polan, PhD, and American Planning Association Planning and Community Health Center Manager Anna Ricklin, AICP, to get answers.

Q: Why are APHA and the American Planning Association good fits as partners to improve the health of communities nationwide?

Anna Ricklin, AICP, American Planning Association Planning and Community Health Center Manager Anna Ricklin. Photo by APA

Anna Ricklin, AICP, American Planning Association Planning and Community Health Center manager. Photo by APA

AR: Both APA and APHA have been working at the crossroads of health and built environment for several years now, and first began a formal partnership in 2012 with a project to build bridges among all health and design professions. Even more than that, though, planners and health professionals share the same goal to promote a high quality of life for all citizens. With a combined membership of more than 50,000 members, it makes sense that the two national associations would partner on a major initiative to advance health-oriented planning.

SP: It is important for public health professionals and professionals in other sectors to collaborate in order to address the needs of communities nationwide. The partnership between APA and APHA is a natural fit because we know that everything impacts health. Things such as housing, education and income to community design, transportation and our environment. Therefore, APHA and APA’s collaboration makes for a more efficient process and has brought awareness and recognition to the two fields. Americans are overfed and undernourished; therefore, Plan4Health is an important initiative as we work toward increasing physical activity in safe environments and ensuring that all communities have access to nutritious food and make healthier food choices.

In the past, groups may have been working on similar projects without being aware of potential opportunities. We are excited about this partnership that will allow coalitions to implement policies, systems and environmental strategies to improve communities and work towards health equity. We hope that APHA and APA will continue to collaborate on similar initiatives because this is an important step toward our vision of creating the healthiest nation in one generation.

Q: Plan4Health supports 18 coalitions in its first cohort and the second cohort will be chosen soon. Each of these coalitions will work to improve two distinct health indicators: nutrition and physical activity. Why were these coalitions chosen and what will the interventions entail?

AR: APA selected awardees from an open Request for Proposals process which emphasized cross-sector collaboration, policy and environment approaches to disease prevention and innovation. Interventions range from citywide planning efforts, such as developing a pedestrian master plan, to more focused efforts such as enhancing and growing the capacity of a city food pantry.

Susan Polan, PhD, APHA associate executive director. Photo by APHA

Susan Polan, PhD, APHA associate executive director. Photo by APHA

Q: Why is it important for APHA to be a part of an initiative focused on increasing the access to physical activity opportunities and access to healthy food and beverage options?

SP: APHA has been on the forefront of many health policies and initiatives throughout our history. We are excited to be a part of Plan4Health and support coalitions that are working toward increasing physical activities and healthy food access for a variety of reasons. The need for our communities to increase physical activity has been well documented and Surgeon General Murthy’s recent call to action for Active Living has propelled this messaging to new heights. Similarly, the importance of providing nutritious foods to all people nationwide is a public health issue that involves professionals from various sectors. Plan4Health utilizes a Health in All Policies approach and provides APHA with the opportunity to work toward our mission to “improve the health of the public and achieve equity in health status.”

Q: One fundamental objective of Plan4Health is to include non-traditional sectors. Which sectors, or which organizations, are on your personal wish lists?

AR: Many sectors that were on our wish are already involved! In addition to planners, we have urban designers, transportation folks, and advocates from the biking community. Some others we would love to see greater involvement from – and who we know care about these issues – are architects, landscape architects, and clinicians and hospitals.

SP: APHA has a history of partnering with organizations that share our vision in helping to create healthier and more equitable communities. As an organization, we are committed to implementing a Health in All Policies approach in order to ensure collaboration with other professionals in non-traditional sectors. We will continue to expand our cross-sectoral partnerships to include sectors and organizations working on initiatives that impact our nation’s health. We would love to work with businesses such as food retailers to find ways to provide healthier foods that are easily accessible to communities nationwide. A relationship with pediatricians would be beneficial because they can disseminate critical messages to parents about implementing regular physical activities and making healthy food choices for their children.

Q: We’ve seen Plan4Health help kick-start Indianapolis’ first comprehensive pedestrian plan. What metrics are being used to define our success?

AR: Because Plan4Health projects vary so much by coalition, it is difficult to capture all of the successes that we know are happening, especially the qualitative nature of relationship-building and the potential for long term change with planning. We are, however, measuring success through Reach — by counting how many people each coalition reached through their strategies — and by collecting success stories. Together, these two sets of data provide a more complete picture of how these projects work on the ground, and provide examples that others can use to develop similar initiatives in their own communities.

APHA is also facilitating a comprehensive evaluation plan and has created data collection tools that will provide outcomes for the coalitions and national activities. The plan will use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s evaluation criteria, including short-term outcomes and overall effectiveness.

Q: What are your expectations of the Plan4Health activities being conducted in the communities and APHA’s involvement?

SP: Implementing routine physical activity and eating healthy foods are critical in chronic disease prevention and management. As a result of the numerous Plan4Health coalitions, communities will benefit from policies, strategies and environmental policies that will positively impact their health. Particularly, the identification of safe spaces for physical activities, routes to school and work, and improved access to foods in neighborhoods that were once considered food deserts are essential for chronic disease prevention.

Supporting these activities will bolster APHA’s efforts to improve the health of the public and achieve equity in health status. APHA, the Public Health Institute and the California Department of Public Health developed a Health in All Policies Guide for State and Local Governments, which provides several examples of successful interagency partnerships and projects. The Health in All Policies approach is innovative and necessary when working toward improving the nation’s health and decreasing public health issues such as chronic disease. APHA is passionate about this approach and we recognize the importance of collaborating with other sectors.