The Mission to Make Jax the Healthiest City in Florida

community health

// by Stella Katsipoutis

Home to approximately 850,000 people, Jacksonville may be the largest city by land mass in the United States, but it’s also one of the unhealthiest. In fact, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the bold city by the St. Johns River ranks 48th out of Florida’s 67 counties for quality health outcomes. Spurred on by the less-than-stellar results, Mayor Lenny Curry partnered up with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in April to launch Journey to One, a mission to help Jacksonville nab first place in Florida health rankings—a spot claimed by St. Johns County for the past five years.

“48 out of 67. That’s not a ranking I want for our city. I want us to be number one,” says Curry. “This is unacceptable, leading me to sound the alarm with Journey to One, a citywide campaign to improve our health. I care about our city, and feel an awesome responsibility to lead with the interest of all citizens as my guide.”

“For the County Health Rankings, environmental factors that impact our ranking were air pollution, drinking water violations, severe housing problems, driving alone to work and long commutes to work,” says Dr. Kelli Wells of the Duval County Department of Health. “This is an area of challenge because work must be done to ensure that the community leaders, policy makers and area residents know that every community decision and every community issue, has an impact on health. Health is impacted by the educational system, land use and zoning actions, permitting and unemployment rates.”

Officially kicked off on World Health Day, the new campaign aims to improve the well-being of citizens in two fundamental areas of their lives: personal health and community health. By providing residents with the tools and resources they need to exercise more, eat better and lose weight, Curry hopes that as each individual holds themselves accountable for their own wellness, the city of Jacksonville can move toward a brighter, more healthful future as a whole.

“Research tells us that the health of a city is defined by the wellbeing of its citizens,” says Curry. “Each one of us shares a responsibility. With Journey to One, we are building and strengthening partnerships, resources and programs that promote nutrition, exercise, walkability, weight loss, disease prevention and safer communities. It’s about leveraging the resources and partnerships we have, and focusing our efforts toward a common goal: that everyone in every zip code lives well in Jacksonville.”

So how can Jacksonville citizens accomplish this challenge? Well, in addition to launching the Journey to One campaign, Mayor Curry also introduced brand-new public activities to help get Jacksonvillians going. Newly announced in April was the Mayorthon, an effort to inspire each resident to walk or run at least 26.2 miles a month. As a means to promote physical activity and put the city’s more than 400 parks and recreational sites on display, a new monthly walk will be hosted each month at a different location in Jacksonville.

The Mission One Million initiative was also introduced. Together with the Duval County Medical Society Foundation, the Mayor’s Council on Fitness & Well-Being is putting Jacksonville citizens up to the task of losing a collective one million pounds through proper diet and exercise. And to help bring fresh, affordable produce to areas where fruits and vegetables are hard to come by, Journey to One also encourages community gardening.

Many other program partnerships also help deliver health-related resources all over the city. The Florida Department of Health in Duval County’s 5-2-1-0 campaign teaches families how to improve their wellbeing and activity levels by making simple changes in their lives, while the Farm to Faith initiative brings fresh produce to churches in Northwest Jacksonville. Fifty-eight fire stations scattered throughout the city also offer blood pressure checks to Jacksonville citizens—free of charge.

But, no different from athletes who have to train individually but work together in order to win a championship, Jacksonville can only be as strong as its weakest link. Although the city can offer any given number of useful programs and resources, it’s up to the people to make the journey to the top a success.

“This community has demonstrated a willingness to work together to focus on increasing positive health outcomes,” Wells says. “Journey to One began the necessary community conversation about the city’s health status and the need to everyone to participate to improve health outcomes and our city’s health ranking. It address the most significant health issues our residents face and expands the focus on and support of the agencies and programs in our community with the expertise to impact these issues.”

“If you want change to happen in the world, if you want Jacksonville to be one of the 10 healthiest cities in America, you have to believe that you have the power to make that happen,” said Murthy during a speech to Jacksonville middle school students at the Prime Osborn Convention Center in April.

Ready to accept the challenge? As you work toward accomplishing your own health and weight loss goals, you can track your progress, share your success stories and inspire others on social media by using #904MissionAccepted. u