Healthy you key to healthy community

Editor’s Note: MAPP,  Mobilizing for Action through Planning & Partnerships, is a local coalition that aims to use and build upon our strengths to improve our individual, family and community health. Health is defined broadly to include cultural, economic, educational, environmental, mental, physical and spiritual health.  

This is the start of the political season when we start getting flooded with poll results. But rather than focus on what is happening at the national level regarding some familiar politician, I am fascinated with a lesser known celebrity: The Local Community Member. 

Every three years, MAPP partners work together to collect opinions and data from hundreds of Local Community Members here on the southern Kenai Peninsula. And, as always, fascinating information comes up.

Like how this Local Community Member answers the question about what needs to be improved in our community. Every time this survey has been conducted, most recently starting in November, Local Community Members rank substance abuse as the highest concern on the community level.  On the family level, however, substance abuse never ranks as an issue.

So does that mean that substance abuse is always someone else’s problem? Or that Local Community Members believe that it is a serious issue even if they don’t suffer from it? When it comes to creating a healthy community, is a little substance abuse still too much?

Just like you might associate economic plans with political conversations, it is understandable that substance abuse will come up when talking about community health.  But what I love most about these surveys are the details about our Local Community Member that don’t generally make the headlines.

For instance, there is a question on the survey about what prevents you from using services or activities in the community. The one category that ranks highest, no surprise, is cost.  But there were two other categories that, when combined, added up to a bigger issue than even cost.  What is the biggest block in the life of the average Local Community Member that keeps them from taking advantage of what we have to offer here?

Time.  “Schedule conflicts” and “Not enough time” together ranked as a bigger problem than cost for most Local Community Members. We have a lot to offer here, lots of activities, lots of services, all of which can improve community health. But what if the Local Community Member never has the time to take advantage of them?

I find this interesting because this puts our Local Community Member back on the national stage. The life of the hurried multitasker is a stereotype of the typical American. But aren’t we different up here in Alaska?  Don’t we live in a wild, rural setting where the big city stresses never come into play? Natural beauty ranked as the greatest strength for our community on the survey. We all cherish it. 

But it looks like our Local Community Member does have this national disease. Not enough time. 

What makes this an important health issue is all the stress that is connected to it. All the missed opportunities that result. All the healthy time with friends and family that can get sacrificed. Time can be the root cause of all kinds of health issues that could have been taken care of properly with a little attention.

For instance, one of the things that has been shown to strengthen the family is shared meals. That takes time. It takes time to get a health checkup. It takes time to exercise. It takes time to relax. It takes time to call a loved one. But all of these things are exactly what makes this Local Community Member healthier. 

No politician is going to legislate more time for the Local Community Member. No one is going to make more time for you, a Local Community Member, or your neighbor, another Local Community Member. How as a community can an issue like this be addressed? Only by Local Community Members.

This is the part of health care I love. The part where we as individuals can make a difference. Knowing the issue is the first step, but then addressing it is the next. Are you spending enough of your time on things that truly matter for your health? Remember, you can’t help anyone else if you are exhausted and unhealthy.  

This is not a new conversation. Time management is a common topic for self-help books and inspirational videos of all kinds. But this is where we get to see that what is an issue in our family can also be an issue at the community level. It is all connected. To be a healthy community, we have to take care of ourselves. We are all Local Community Members.

So take some time for yourself. Do it for your community.

Kyra Wagner is the coordinator of Sustainable Homer and a member of the MAPP steering committee.

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