Schools, city, businesses take steps to ensure Tukwila healthy place to live

With the help of a federal Centers for Disease Control grant, the city of Tukwila is targeting sugar and sugary drinks, which have been linked to many of the diseases that afflict Tukwila residents, through its innovative Healthy Tukwila initiative.

Kelly Garrett of Tukwila and her daughter Tulin get a workout at the Family Fitness class at Tukwila Community Center. BELOW: Blishda Lacet

Staying healthy in Tukwila is as easy as going to school, work or the Tukwila Community Center.

Of course once you get there the hard work starts, your willpower is tested and you may have to give up something, like that can of pop that holds much of the sugar you’re allowed to consume in a day.

But there’s an upside, one that can lead to a healthier, happier life – and a more productive one. If you’re a student, your math scores might even improve.

Just living in Tukwila can be a challenge in itself, if you look at the city’s health profile prepared by the health department.

There are areas in the city – including near the community center – that are considered “food deserts,” meaning they are more than a mile away from a supermarket or large grocery store where healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are sold.

Instead, what’s available are fast-food restaurants that lean toward fats, sugars and carbohydrates. BECU is revamping what’s available for snacks and lunch at its headquarters campus in Tukwila because its employees can’t find healthy options nearby.

“When employees feel like their health and wellness is being cared for, it’s a better employee experience. And when your employees are happy, they are going to be more productive,” said Katie Gannon, BECU’S Worklife and Wellness Program manager.

An informative report card on the overall state of Tukwila’s health is the joint health profile of Tukwila and Seatac prepared by Public Health – Seattle and King County. The two cities have some of the highest rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease in King County, which can dramatically shorten how long a person lives.

“We don’t think it’s OK that your life expectancy is connected to your ZIP code, to where you live,” said Blishda Lacet, communities program manager within Public Health’s Healthy Eating, Active Living Unit.

Lacet has been a key resource and support person for the Healthy Tukwila initiative by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. With the help of a federal Centers for Disease Control grant, the city of Tukwila is targeting sugar and sugary drinks, which have been linked to many of the diseases that afflict Tukwila residents.

In Tukwila’s schools, many of the city’s students are getting three healthy meals a day for free with the help of government grants and the investment by the Tukwila School District.

The eventual goal is to offer three meals a day – for free – to all of Tukwila’s roughly 2,800 students.

Right now, the district serves about 1,500 free breakfasts a day.

“We’re focused here on getting breakfast to all of our students. Everything seems to build around that from a nutrition standpoint, is getting the kids started off correctly each morning,” said Craig Huckins, the school district’s food service director.

The Centers for Disease Control is providing $90,000 divided over three years to the Tukwila Parks and Recreation Department’s Healthy Tukwila initiative, known as a PICH grant or Partnerships to Improve Community Health.

“It’s a partnership between Public Health and parks and recreation to work together to increase awareness of the harmful effects of sugar and also to change the food and beverage environment within parks and recreation programs,” said Margaret Major, the city’s project manager for Healthy Tukwila.

City employees and anyone who participates in an activity at the Tukwila Community Center will see some changes coming to the vending machines in June and later at other city buildings.

“Some not very good things are in our vending machines,” said Major, such as energy drinks and candy bars, all of which typically include sugar naturally or as an added ingredient. Trans fats, which are industrially produced for such items as fast food or anything fried, are also on a list to go.

Now, the vending machines will see a higher percentage of such healthy options such as fresh fruit, string cheese and yogurt. Water, either from a vending machine or to fill water bottles, will become readily available. Infused water will have the taste of something healthy, such as cucumbers.

“Our intention is that Healthy Tukwila will be this broader umbrella in talking about other health issues and what does health mean to Tukwila as a whole,” said Major, which includes opportunities to get or stay fit.

Parks and Recreation also has started a new program geared to families called Family Fitness, a free program on Mondays and Wednesdays that’s like a PE class for kids and parents, with circuit training, then fun interactive games, according to Marlus Francis, recreation coordinator for Tukwila Parks and Recreation.

The program is taught by Major.

On a recent Wednesday, Kelly Garrett and her 6-year-old daughter Tulin Aldemir, worked the circuit and with smiles and laughter rolled on two big inflatable balls. The class is the perfect activity that they can do together, Garrett said, as dad Turgay takes care of their 1-year-old son Kenan at home in Duwamish.

And Garrett appreciates the fitness aspect of the early evening activity.

“I didn’t know exactly what to expect. So for an out-of-shape, stay-at-home mom, this is perfect,” said Garrett. “It creates the environment where I get a little bit of a workout without being sore the next day, because I still have another child to take care of.”

And the course challenges daughter Tulin. “It’s good for both of us,” Garrett said.

While the idea behind Healthy Tukwila is to start with public buildings and city employees who will serve as role models, the goal has always been to extend the initiative’s health benefits to the community and provide education about how to eat healthy and get fit.

“We are really just trying to turn that lightbulb on in people’s minds,” said Major. “It’s not like forcing things down people’s throats.”

Anyone who plays or watches peewee soccer or flag football has probably seen the “REthink your Drink” initiative, which includes a pledge to set aside sweetened drinks in favor of water.

“We just want people to drink water. We don’t need the sugary sports drinks and the things that sometimes come along with youth sports,” said Francis.

Participants in this Saturday’s Healthy Earth Healthy You 5K Run and Walk starting at the community center will have a chance to sign the pledge. Staff members will set up in a tent and provide educational materials and answer questions about Healthy Tukwila.

In the future Parks and Recreation will offer educational workshops on making healthy choices and how to ready the labels that show the nutritional values of a product and cooking classes.

Francis and Major talk about the effect that marketing has on making healthy choices, especially among teens. They want teens to have that “aha moment” when they realize it’s the marketers and not them making their decision to drink a sugar-filled drink.

Public Health workers have worked for 20 or 30 years to reduce the smoking rate but similar outreach on obesity has only happened for about decade, according to Lacet with Public Health.

“For obesity, for a long time a lot of people looked at it as it’s a personal choice,” she said. “You choose to eat what you eat. You choose to not get up and be physically active.”

But it’s not that simple, she said, pointing to the marketers, the lack of easily available healthy food and the inability to afford that food.

What Healthy Tukwila did “really well,” Lacet said, was reach out to the city’s diverse populations in developing the program “so they can ensure the culture, the beliefs, the language are incorporated in the programs.”

Many businesses offer wellness and fitness programs to their employees; BECU is expanding healthy food and drink options and an upgraded fitness facility as part of a major remodel of its headquarters building in Tukwila with 537 workers.

“We have a three-year strategy of increasing the overall wellness of our employees and being able to offer wellness for the whole person,” said Gannon with BECU. “It’s not just physical and nutritional wellness, but we’re also doing a focus on mental wellness and financial wellness as well.”

Such programs are within reach of smaller businesses, Gannon said, by taking advantage of community partners such as the Tukwila Community Center, which offers fitness and health classes.

BECU started Weight Watchers for its employees in January in Tukwila and Kent and in the 12 weeks, the 91 participants lost 933 pounds. In May BECU will introduce its first Boot Camp series on campus, rain or shine, outside.

Like the Tukwila Community Center, BECU will add more healthy options to its vending machines this summer through a vendor who will regularly restock the machines with fresh fruit, freshly made salads and sandwiches, much like a marketplace.

“Our employees have been asking for healthy food items for a long time,” Gannon said.

MORE TO KNOW, DO

There are a number of websites available for healthy living:

• Healthy Tukwila newsletter, email Healthy.Tukwila@tukwilawa. PHONE: 206-767-2342

• USDA healthy cooking recipes

Sugary drinks, Public Health

• USDA dietary guidelines

Tukwila School District food service

• Healthy Earth Healthy You 5K Run and Walk: Saturday, April 23, 9 a.m. start. To register call 206-768-2822 or at the event

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