By Margaret T. Simpson
“We’re walking to the Moon,” says Linda Reich, deputy director of community services for the City of Chino.
Reich is talking about the newest goal of the city’s Chino Walks program, the adult walking club that is the cornerstone of its Healthy Chino wellness initiative. Since its beginning in 2005, Reich has logged every step the club’s members have accrued in their quest for fitness.
“We walked past the Earth within our first year,” she said. “We currently have 66,045 miles towards the Moon. The Moon is a lot farther.”
Chino Walks is open to anyone, said Reich.
“We have people signing up every month. It’s still going really well. We have 287 members.” A local hospital donated funds for t-shirts and pedometers so members can track those all-important steps. Walkers can even transfer their steps from other fitness events, such as Relay for Life, to increase their accrued mileage.
In Chino, where 68 percent of residents are obese and five of the city’s 10 leading causes of death are obesity-related, wellness is serious business. In public health surveys, Chino’s obesity rate is higher than both San Bernardino County at 65 percent and the State of California at 55 percent.
In July, the Chino City Council adopted a separate wellness chapter, A Healthy City, for its General Plan; it is one of the first California cities to do so.
The city began drafting A Healthy City in 2005, said Nicholas Liguori, AICP, principal planner for the Chino Community Development Department. “In Chino, it was a city-driven thing. We wanted to do this for our residents.”
Healthy Chino incorporates more of the city’s short-term wellness goals that include physical activity and nutrition education, said Liguori, while the new General Plan chapter focuses on longer-term projects such as changes to land use and transportation.
Both types of goals work together to create what Liguori describes as “an enhanced sense of community” with neighborhood parks and community centers that bring people together for recreation and social gatherings. The future Chino will be more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly, he said, to reduce dependence on the automobile for personal travel.
In the five years since its inception, Healthy Chino has created a network of wellness partners — school districts, hospitals, medical professionals, the YMCA — that offer fitness classes, walking groups, free health screenings and nutrition education. Chino has a thriving community garden, and a Farmers’ Market has offered fresh produce since 2006.
The city is also collaborating with local school districts to ensure that schools have healthy drinking water and better-quality food choices in school vending machines.
The YMCA is Healthy Chino’s main community partner. It sponsors fitness programs and, in collaboration with local hospitals and medical professionals who donate their expertise, a yearly Family Fitness Day with free cholesterol, blood pressure and other medical screening tests.
“We’ve been with them since the beginning,” said Kasey Powderly, healthy lifestyles director for the Chino Valley YMCA. “We work with a lot of grants together, and we’re also involved because we have a partnership with the school districts. We go in and teach fitness to preschoolers, one-half hour of crafts, one-half hour of fitness.”
Younger children look forward to the games and activities that encourage walking, like the Penguin Race, said Powderly. They even get competitive and try to see who can walk the most steps. It doesn’t really matter what the activity is, she said, as long as the kids are walking. “Doing simple, silly stuff — you’re moving.”
The children’s programs are essential, said Powderly, but the city’s goal is to get each of its neighborhoods to begin some kind of physical activity. “It’s trying to encourage neighborhood leadership so families will get out and walk.”
“We’re very fortunate in the city of Chino to have the city, the school and the YMCA that can work together,” she said. Exercise is important for residents of all ages, and the shared resources of city partners help the city reach as many residents as possible with the wellness message.
“One of our most successful programs now is our Chino Walks KIDS program,” said Reich. An after-school program modeled on the adult Chino Walks club, KIDS is now active in two middle schools and six elementary schools. Meetings center on walking and nutrition education; students learn about good nutrition by playing “Deal Me In,” a colorful food and fitness card game developed by the Dairy Council of California.
In its pilot year in 2009, KIDS students walked over 1,300 miles to surpass their goal of walking to the Golden Gate Bridge. From January to May of this year, the 450 student members walked more than 3,000 miles. Students worked to increase their step count by 25 percent from their January baseline. The KIDS students have pedometers to track their progress from day to day, said Reich, and it’s a great incentive for them.
This year’s KIDS kickoff event began on September 30. Reich isn’t sure of the KIDS destination this school year, but she’s sure it will be an ambitious one, perhaps something as intangible as the future.
“If we can develop healthy lifestyles for them when they’re young they can take it into adulthood,” she said. “They can take it home to their parents.”