From being a personal trainer to working with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Joanie Fogel has been involved in health and physical fitness most of her life. Today Fogel works as an obesity prevention specialist with the Department of Health and Human Services for the state of Alaska in Anchorage. Over the years she says the mentality of many health organizations is that if you just educate people on healthy living things will change, but she says that hasn’t been the case.

“What’s coming down from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is that people know to eat fruits and vegetables, they know to be psychically active, they know not to smoke, but unless you have environments that support those choices it can’t happen. If you’re a smoker and you want to quit smoking it’s unfair to think you can quit if everywhere you go there are people using tobacco,” she says.

So what is the key to a healthy community? One idea is making the healthy choice the easy choice. This means making the healthy option more accessible to the general public, something Fogel says Wrangell has been very successful at.

“I just really see Wrangell as kind of a model of what a community can do to improve itself. When I talk to other communities they are really in awe of what has been accomplished here and what will continue to be accomplished, they see that as a possibility for their own community to change,” she says.

Some accomplishments include the creation of a community garden, work site wellness programs, activities offered at the recreation center, as well as the growth of the local medical facilities, and overall development of outdoor recreation on the Island.

Local groups like the Healthy Wrangell Coalition as well as the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium have worked over the years to develop community wellness programs in Wrangell. This has been done through community wide projects and activities as well as informational meetings on nutrition and mental health. In 2010 Wrangell received the ACHIEVE grant offered through the CDC. The grant is designated to help communities implement policies to support healthy environments. Fogel says the ACHIEVE grant can help a community get moving in the right direction, but she says it ultimately takes a collective effort by the entire community to improve its overall health.

“Every community is different and unique, so what works for Wrangell, might not necessarily work for Hooper Bay or Kodiak. But it’s the idea that a community knows what it needs best way more than somebody at the state or federal level, and then saying this is what we need and this is how we can achieve it,” she says.

For more information on the Healthy Wrangell Coalition you can visit www.healthywrangellcoalition.org or to learn more about chronic disease prevention and health promotion you can visit the states website at hss.state.ak.us.
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