How people interact with the surrounding environment can play a critical role in a community’s overall health, especially when it comes to obesity.
Obesity persists across most of the state. Commonly linked with diabetes, obesity has been identified as one of the most significant health issues in all seven of St. Luke’s most recent Community Health Needs Assessments, covering much of the southwestern portion of Idaho.
The prevalence of the condition continues to rise, according to data presented in United Way of Treasure Valley’s 2020 Community Assessment. Statewide, roughly 29 percent of adults are considered obese.
In addition to the medical care provided within clinical settings to patients managing obesity, the issue also can be addressed through a community health lens.
To those ends, St. Luke’s provides Community Health Improvement Fund grants to many local organizations that promote physical activity, often effective in tackling obesity. Grants have been awarded to nonprofits like Boise Bicycle Project, which offers bikes to kids and adults to provide a fun—and healthy—mode of transportation.
St. Luke’s also hosts FitOne, a community walk/run program that features multiple distances. Last fall, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the event shifted to a virtual format, encouraging people nationwide to map out their own safe routes, lace their shoes and get moving.
Getting people moving is a key element in St. Luke’s community health efforts – and in some cases, altering the physical environment so that it is more conducive to activities liking walking and biking has been integral to the equation.
Over the past several years, St. Luke’s has collaborated with neighbors, architects and experts in public health and biking to develop a cycle track around the Boise Medical Center. The health system also helped fund a ‘story trail’ in Canyon County in 2020.
This spring, St. Luke’s is partnering with the City of Boise to add a new recreational trail near the Boise Medical Center.
The new, 0.75-mile trail will connect the Boise VA Medical Center to existing trails in the Military Reserve area.
“We are grateful to have a partner like St. Luke’s that values health and outdoor recreation as much as we do,” said Doug Holloway, City of Boise parks and recreation director.
“This new trail connection will increase access to one of the city’s most popular reserves, and trail users who responded to our most recent Ridge to Rivers survey strongly support its construction.”
The new trail was requested by community members as a desired amenity, according to city officials. It will be designed as a neighborhood access point, near West Union Street, without a formal trailhead or additional parking. The Boise VA also supports the connection, which will increase accessibility for employees and members of the community who take to on-campus pathways for recreation and walks to and from work.
“A built environment in place to encourage an active lifestyle that’s easy and convenient to access helps remove barriers and obstacles that might otherwise stand in someone’s way to get outside and move,” said Tiffany Dobbs, St. Luke’s community health manager.
“Something like a conveniently located trail not only encourage physical fitness with walking, running or biking, but research also shows that time spent outdoors in green spaces results in improvements in mental and emotional well-being as well.”
The Ridge to Rivers trail crew plans to build the connection this year. The construction cost, which will be covered by St. Luke’s, is estimated at $12,000.
Not only will the trail be a new way to promote healthy activity, it’s also a way to thank the community and surrounding neighbors for their patience during phase one of construction improvements to the Boise hospital, said Sandee Gehrke, St. Luke’s vice president of system operations.
This spring, St. Luke’s is wrapping up completion on a new central utility plant, patient parking garage and shipping and receiving facility at the Boise Medical Center. The improvements are part of St. Luke’s Boise Master Plan, approved by the City of Boise in 2015.
“We are thrilled to partner with the City of Boise to provide this new trail connection as a way to give back and celebrate the completion of this phase of enhancements to the Boise hospital,” Gehrke said.
“This trail will improve access to outdoor recreation and is something our employees, families, neighbors and the community can enjoy.”
Daniel Mediate works in the St. Luke’s Community Engagement department.