Category Archives: SOLUTIONS

Healthy Schools Build a Healthier Oregon

Schools and the people inside them are important to me because I come from a long line of educators. My parents, both of my grandfathers, three aunts and one uncle were—or still are—teachers.

Even though I didn’t follow my relatives’ career path, I can tell that schools have become healthier over the past few decades. For example, when I attended Mountain View High School in Bend in the late ’80s, tobacco was a constant presence. Our school even had a dedicated “smoking zone” on campus—for the students.

Today at Mountain View, I’m thrilled and proud to see students like Taylor Johnson taking on Big Tobacco by raising awareness among her peers of the dangers of e-cigarettes. Since 2006, Oregon public schools have been tobacco free—a recognition of tobacco’s role as the No. 1 preventable cause of death and disease in our state, killing 7,000 Oregonians each year. This policy not only protects kids but supports school employees in living tobacco-free – we know this works as only five percent of school employees smoke cigarettes.

Such achievements are part of an ongoing movement across Oregon to create a culture of health in our schools through sustained policies and wellness efforts. This movement matters to all of us, whether or not we have school-age children, because schools affect more than students.


They are workplaces for teachers and staff; athletic facilities for kids and adults; meeting places for Scout troops and civic groups; and community hubs that draw people to sporting events, festivals and weekend farmers markets. They are one of the main places where Oregonians live our lives—which means they have a big impact on our health.

Schools can’t do it all, of course; it’s vital that students and staff continue to have access to physical activity, healthy eating and tobacco-free living outside the schoolhouse doors. But when our schools are healthy, they help our communities become healthier, too.


Inside the classroom, healthy students are better learners, research shows.

Ultimately, healthy students are more likely to graduate from high school and become productive citizens. They are less likely to get chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer that can affect their quality of life and the whole community.

So what does a school with a strong culture of health look like? Many Oregon schools already are showing us, in a variety of ways:

  • Serving school meals that meet nutrition standards calling for more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Hosting healthy activities and fundraisers such as dance-a-thons and skate nights that make physical activity fun, safe and accessible.
  • Creating safe routes for walking and biking that support not only the students and staff, but all the people, who live near a school.


We all have a stake in creating healthier schools. I hope you’ll take a look below and identify a specific way you can get involved in building a culture of health for Oregon schoolchildren in all of our communities.

If you’re a family with a student, a caregiver, or you live in a community with a school:

  • Get involved with your district or school wellness council.
  • Advocate for strong wellness policies.
  • Spread the word about the importance of healthy schools to other parents/caregivers and throughout your community.
  • Download the Oregon Healthy Schools brochure or contact Oregon Healthy Schools, a partnership of the Oregon Department of Education Child Nutrition Programs and the Oregon Health Authority/Public Health Division, to find out more ways to get involved.

If you’re an organization that already works on wellness or health efforts for students and schools:

  • Check your school website for a copy of your School District Wellness Policy or ask the school’s principal for a copy. Review it to find places where it aligns or intersects with your programs.
  • Join or assist with a wellness committee at the school or district level.
  • Share grant funding or services that help the school or district meet its
    wellness goals.

If you are a school employee:

  • Form or join a wellness committee dedicated to employee health.
  • Support your coworkers by bringing healthy options to staff meetings and taking walking meetings or breaks together.
  • Plan and participate in health promoting worksite wellness activities.


Curious about a chronic disease topic you’d like to see covered here? Interested in writing a guest blog? Keep the conversation going by leaving a comment below. 

Preventing and Relieving Arthritis Pain: Is it Really as Easy as a Walk in the Park?

One of the most effective ways to prevent arthritis and relieve arthritis pain isn’t complicated and doesn’t cost a dime. Getting your heart rate up and keeping it up—30 minutes a day, five days a week—is a proven method for reducing the risk of arthritis and relieving the pain, stiffness and fatigue associated with this disease.

That adds up to 2.5 hours a week of moderate physical activity, the kind you get from a brisk walk around the neighborhood or gardening in your yard. Such a simple prescription should come as good news to all Oregonians, especially the more than 827,000 Oregonians who live with doctor-diagnosed arthritis.

Unfortunately, many of us face real barriers to getting even this modest amount of preventive and pain-relieving activity. This may be particularly true for communities most affected by arthritis. Thirty-six percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Oregon live with the disease, compared to 27 percent of whites.

One of those barriers affects all of us, whether or not we have arthritis: We simply don’t move as much as we once did.

Physical activity used to be built into daily life. Now, we drive cars instead of walking. Nearly 1 in 2 employed adults in Oregon (46%) spend most of their work days sitting, according to annual health surveys of state residents. At home, technologies save time and stress—but also enable us to sit more and move less.

Additional barriers exist for Oregonians in communities where the physical environments, or individual life circumstances, make it difficult to move enough each day:

  • Having no safe place to walk or play outside your home is a barrier to physical activity.
  • Having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet leaves little time for physical activity.

And of course, arthritis pain itself can be a barrier to physical activity. It’s hard to move when you’re hurting.

Expanding opportunities for Oregonians to overcome these barriers to physical activity—and ultimately, to good health—is a big part of our work at the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), specifically in the Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention section. That work includes the “Physical Activity: The Arthritis Pain Reliever” campaign, a joint effort of OHA and its community partners, Oregon State University Extension Service and Portland Community College.

The ongoing campaign, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, supports “Walk with Ease” classes in Oregon counties and tribes. This research-based Arthritis Foundation program helps people prevent and manage their arthritis through regular physical activity. In addition, Oregon’s Living Well with Chronic Conditions and EnhanceFitness are also beneficial to people with arthritis and other chronic conditions.

Importantly, such efforts to make good health accessible to anyone in Oregon extend well beyond OHA. Individuals, community groups and organizations across our state are working to make neighborhoods more walkable; to make active modes of transportation more available; and to help employers create healthier workplaces—to name only a few examples. This work is critical because getting enough physical activity does more than prevent arthritis and relieve its pain.

Together with healthy eating and avoiding tobacco use, regular physical activity can help prevent a range of chronic diseases—including diabetes, cancer and heart disease—that affect more than 1.7 million Oregon adults.

When we make it easier for more Oregonians to get the physical activity they want and need to prevent or manage these diseases, we improve the lives of our family members and friends, reduce healthcare costs and create a healthier, stronger state for us all.

That said, all this talk about physical activity is making me restless.

Who’s ready for a walk?

To find a program in your area, you can call 1-888-576-7414, the Oregon Self-Management Help Line, or visit http://public.health.oregon.gov/PreventionWellness/SelfManagement/Pages/index.aspx.

Easing the Human Costs of Chronic Disease

They say everything in life has its price—but some costs are harder to measure than others. That’s certainly true when it comes to the costs of chronic d­isease, for individual Oregonians and for our state as a whole.

Woman-Shake-Ts-86508705We can, of course, put a number on the big dollar costs for medical treatment of chronic diseases such as asthma, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Take just two—heart disease and stroke—which are the most costly to Oregonians. In 2011, there were 37,601 hospitalizations related to heart disease and stroke, with an average hospital bill of nearly $71,000. The total price tag: more than $1.3 billion.

But dollars and cents aren’t nearly sufficient to measure the full toll of chronic disease. As of 2013, more than 1.7 million of our adult family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors in Oregon had one or more chronic diseases. That’s over 40 percent of all state residents. The harder-to-measure human costs of their conditions are all around:

  • the grandfather whose heart disease prevents him from taking walks in the park with his grandson
  • the neighbor who loves to sing but whose arthritis keeps her from attending church choir practice
  • the adult daughter who quits a job she loves to take care of a parent with cancer
  • the friend recently diagnosed with diabetes, scared about what the future holds

That last example is, in fact, my friend—a woman about my age (45). She has watched unchecked diabetes hobble her relatives, and she knows how bad it can get if she doesn’t manage her new condition. When she shared her diagnosis with me over coffee recently, she was worried about how she will make the changes necessary for her to live with this disease for the next 30-plus years.Couple-Hike-Ts-78620745

By definition, chronic diseases are long-lasting conditions that can be prevented and managed, but rarely cured. When they aren’t prevented or managed, they harm Oregonians in every community and diminish their opportunities to live healthy lives that contribute to the health of our state.

The good news for my friend, and for Oregon, is that there are proven methods for managing diabetes. They include the same tools that the rest of us can use to prevent diabetes and other chronic diseases in our own families and communities: Eat a healthy diet. Get more physical activity. Avoid tobacco.

Sounds simple. But if it were, Oregonians wouldn’t be facing such high costs from chronic disease. As of 2013, 79 percent of adults in our state had a risk factor for a chronic disease—such as tobacco use, physical inactivity or poor nutrition. A big reason for that high percentage is that nutritious food, places to play and be active, and smokefree air remain out of reach for too many Oregonians.

  • If you live in a community where parks and other safe places to play are a car ride away, that is a barrier to your family’s ability to get outside and enjoy the fresh air.
  • If you don’t have a full-service grocery store near your home—stocked with affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy—that’s a barrier to eating healthy food on a daily basis.
  • If you live far from where you work, and you spend a lot of time in a car or on a bus to get there and back, that takes away from time that you otherwise could spend walking, gardening, going dancing or taking part in another physical activity.

I feel incredibly fortunate to live close enough to my work that I can bike there, on safe streets, to an office that provides a place to store my bike while I’m working. So no matter what, five days a week, I get about 45 minutes of physical activity, just making a trip that I have to make anyway to get to my job.

When we provide similar access to healthy options for more Oregonians, we reduce the costs of chronic disease to our state and to the people we share it with. We save money, but just as important, we improve the quality of our lives.

Both ways, Oregon prospers.

Curious about a chronic disease topic you’d like to see covered here? Interested in writing a guest blog? Keep the conversation going by leaving a comment below.

Welcome to Health Within Reach: Talking about Place Matters

Anyone involved in public health in Oregon is familiar with the idea that “place matters,” shorthand for how the social conditions in which we live affect our health. These conditions are key to reducing the physical and financial toll of chronic disease on our state. Public health isn’t alone in this conversation—far from it. Oregonians representing a wide range of professions and passions have long known how place matters to people’s lives and well-being. Recently I’m hearing this civic conversation growing louder and helping to shape our places in ways that prioritize health.

These wide-ranging voices were the animating force of our most recent Place Matters Oregon (PMO) conference in Portland. The 500-plus attendees and speakers went far beyond the folks you might expect at a public heath gathering, to include land use planners, teachers, affordable housing advocates, transportation officials, community activists, state legislators, a library director and conservationists.

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