“Healthy Bedford” Discussion Considers Next Steps to Quality of Life Survey Results

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

What is your definition of “health”? Is it merely the absence of disease, or is it something deeper and broader? Does a modern-day definition of the word include physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, cultural, occupational, social, and environmental well-being, as well as physical health?

Participants in last Wednesday night’s“Healthy Bedford” discussion—following on the heels of a survey conducted last fall by Bedford Youth and Family Services through a $15,000 planning grant—were asked to contemplate these questions and then discuss the community’s responses to the survey’s questions: “What is the one factor in Bedford that most impacts your quality of life in a positive way?” and “What is the one biggest challenge you face in Bedford that interferes with your quality of life.”

Carla Olson, coordinator of the Healthy Bedford initiative, provided bar graphs showing how over 200 responders reported the obstacles they see to healthy living here in town.

According to the survey results, the six most challenging quality of life issues in Bedford are:

  • Traffic (69 responses)
  • Lack of sidewalks (39)
  • Lack of public transportation (11)
  • Housing affordability/property taxes (11)
  • Lack of good restaurants and shops (11)

On the other side of the question, the most positive aspects of life in Bedford are:

  • Community (44)
  • Trails/paths (35)
  • Trees/nature (21)
  • Walking to the center of town (18)
  • Schools (15)
  • Town services (15)
  • Recreation (14)
  • Restaurants/Shopping (14)
  • Library (10)

[Note: All other negative and positive responses tallied less than 10 responses each. Answers to the questions were open-ended, not multiple choice.]

In order to move from the survey response phase into an action phase, Bedford Youth and Family Services Director Sue Baldauf said that the initiative will apply for an additional $25,000 in grant funds beyond the $15,000 already received. If the grant application is successful, future programs promoting conversations about the health in the community would be possible. Participants at Wednesday’s meeting made suggestions for programs that would:

  • Increase the use of the town’s conservation trails;
  • Promote public art installations;
  • Host speakers on various health topics;
  • Find or create relevant programs for Bedford TV;
  • Show short films or TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks with discussions following;
  • Hold small and large group reading and/or discussion groups like One Book One Bedford;
  • Establish neighborhood groups that would develop meaningful health initiatives for their group;
  • Collaborate with established Town committees, groups and organizations whose goals include aspects of health/quality of life;
  • Dovetail with already-in-process initiatives;
  • Connect the dots so people see the benefits of a walkable community;
  • Hold a specific event to draw more people into the discussion;
  • Organize a community walking program;
  • Develop food/healthy eating/ culinary programs;
  • Work with relevant committees to expand public transportation, both around Bedford and connecting to nearby communities, possibly a car-sharing program or additional Bedford Local Transit (BLT) routes and vehicles;
  • Ask community members to identify, in a town-wide exercise, the ways in which they feel healthy.

Baldauf and Olson emphasized that they remain open to additional suggestions and that continued community involvement is not only strongly encouraged but necessary. Additionally, Baldauf and Board of Health Director Heidi Porter reported that the Healthy Bedford initiative will invite a local community planner—Mark Fenton, who is also a former Olympic speed-walking champion— tolead a spring workshop( date to be announced)about traffic infrastructure,leading a walk around town to look at hotspots and incorporating follow-up discussions about why policy and environmental changes are so important. [For further information about Fenton, see: https://www.markfenton.com/ ]

Another potential event, if Bedford receives the additional $25,000 grant money, is for speaker Dan Buettner to come to Bedford totalk about his study called “Blue Zones,” which focuses on why certain communities around the world have so many residents over 100 years old. [Information about Dan Buettner, including his nine recommendations for increasing longevity, can be found at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-buettner/how-to-live-to-100—nine_b_94972.html ]

While speakers and experts will undoubtedly bring much to the community, it will ultimately be wide-spread participation in this conversation that will determine the quality of Bedford’soutcome.

Health Director Porter summarized it in this way: “The mission of the Board of Health is ‘Helping neighbors live healthy lives.’  It makes you start to think about what that really means. We think about health as being a state of health a lot of times—and I think a lot of people try to achieve that, almost as an end point. But, quality of life and well-being [is more along the lines of what we think of as health], like what the World Health Organization terms ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being,’ not merely the absence of disease. [The question is,] do I have connectivity to my community, to my friends, to my neighbors?

“The planets are aligning here,” Porter continued. “People throughout [the country] are getting involved in this. It’s great for us to really be thinking broadly. We’re moving along that line in Bedford and it’s so exciting that people are embracing that. ”

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