Healthy Aging through Healthy Community Design

May 3, 2016

By the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH)

The concept of healthy aging through community design creates opportunities for municipalities to promote healthy aging by addressing the built environment. It also builds on the widely recognized “8 – 80” international movement, which recognizes the importance of establishing community design policies that provide for people of all ages.
Incorporating healthy aging principles that foster active living and access to healthy foods into community planning, land use and transportation decisions is critical to supporting healthy aging across the Commonwealth.

healthy_community_designTo promote this concept, over the last two years, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) collaborated with the Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging and Seniors Center Directors (MCOA), to award 21 short-term grants to municipalities.  These grants combined the resources of local Mass in Motion communities and their councils on aging in rural, urban, and suburban cities and towns across the Commonwealth.  In 2014, projects received support through the CDC Preventive Services Block Grant; second-year grantees received their support from a Service Incentive Grant to MCOA from the Executive Office of Elder Affairs. This innovative partnership resulted in collaborations on specific areas of the built environment such as expansion of walking opportunities through walk audits and sidewalk/ walking path improvements and access to healthy foods through projects focusing on creating community gardens, nutrition education and/or expanded farmer’s markets targeting older adults.  A few grantees also actively participate in local Age-Friendly Community coalitions. Many relationships and project collaborations have continued beyond the grant funding period.

The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) received funding to adapt Healthy Community Design Toolkit: Leveraging Positive Change” by infusing principles of healthy aging throughout the publication. This groundbreaking toolkit offers municipal planners and citizens alike resources to improve the built environment for all residents of the Commonwealth.  In addition, in 2015 PVPC worked with three municipalities to conduct comprehensive regulatory reviews using the principles in the toolkit to prioritize policy changes that support the “8-80” concept.

Additionally, the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards (MAHB), in association with MDPH, recently awarded healthy community design grants to 17 communities, many of which are focusing on healthy aging.