For Immediate Release  
March 12, 2019   
Hillsborough MPO 'Garden Steps' initiative 
recognized as runner up in National Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge
Aetna Foundation awards $50,000 at MPO Board Meeting 
Tampa, FL, March 12, 2019 - The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Garden Steps initiative was recognized as one of just eight runners up in the national Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge   .
At the March 11 MPO Board meeting, national representatives of the Aetna Foundation presented the MPO Board with a $50,000 check to support Garden Steps' continued work to improve health equity in our community.  
The Challenge is a collaboration between the Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association (APHA), and the National Association of Counties (NACo) empowering 50 small to midsize U.S. cities and counties to
make measurable, scalable improvements to public health issues in their local communities. Since its inception, $1.5 million in grants and prizes have been awarded to the 50 participating programs to support efforts to tackle the most pressing health issues facing their communities.
 
Garden Steps,
with partners - the City of Tampa, Florida Department of Health-Hillsborough, HART, Planning Commission, and the Coalition of Community Gardens -- has focused on increasing access to fresh produce and healthy living. Along with events to promote healthy eating, the initiative has produced neighborhood garden way-finding signage for pedestrians and bicyclists and identified barriers to accessing transit.
 
Garden Steps comes at a critical time when Hillsborough County faces adult obesity rates of 28% vs 20-24% for peer counties in Florida. Deaths due to hypertension are 2-3 times higher than levels for peer counties (21.5% vs. 6.1-12.8 per 100K population). Chronic diseases such as these are most prominent in low-income urban "food deserts" with limited access to healthy foods. 
 
"The goal to improve the availability of healthy food by working with our community garden coalition, while also fostering walkable, bike-friendly spaces with improved transit access, will plant the seeds for a healthier future in Hillsborough County and serve as a guide to other communities seeking to improve community health through active living," said Hillsborough MPO Chair Lesley "Les" Miller, Jr.
 
To ensure that health is an integral consideration in transportation decision- making, the MPO Board has formally adopted a Health in All Policies approach to planning and policy-making. "It's exciting to see interest and involvement in growing these community gardens, as we work to address the social, physical, and policy infrastructure needed for thriving, healthy communities," said Beth Alden, Executive Director of the Hillsborough MPO.
 
"We recognize to solve our most pressing public health issues, we have to start at the local level - acknowledging the solutions to our problems are as diverse as the communities facing them," said Dr. Garth Graham, President of the Aetna Foundation, an independent philanthropic arm of CVS Health, which is working to deliver on the company's purpose of helping people on their path to better health. "It is our hope the outstanding achievements of Garden Steps Hillsborough will serve as a catalyst for collaboration in local communities around the country working to move the needle in combating health disparities."
 
The awarding of the Challenge prizes, funded by the Aetna Foundation, is part of a $100 million commitment by CVS Health and its affiliates to making community health and wellness central to the company's charge for a better world. The new Building Healthier Communities initiative, which will be funded over five years by CVS Health and the Aetna and CVS Health Foundations, builds upon the outstanding tradition of community investment by CVS Health and Aetna and helps to advance CVS Health's purpose of helping people on their path to better health.  
 
About Garden Steps Hillsborough
 
Health is being recognized as an emerging focus area for Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) for Transportation. The Garden Steps program first identified food deserts and lack of walkability as two of the city's biggest problems. To address these concerns, the initiative proposed creating community gardens with easy pedestrian and bicycle access in identified food deserts. The goal is to improve equity and population health by increasing easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The Hillsborough MPO aims to be a model for Florida's 26 other MPOs and will focus on the city of Tampa, Florida's third most populous city. Learn more about Garden Steps at:
 
For more information on Challenge winners, visit healthiestcities.org and join the conversation at #HealthiestCitiesChallenge.
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Plan Hillsborough Media Contacts:
 
Mary Kelley Hoppe  hoppem@plancom.org  |  Direct: 813.273.3774 x340
 
Lynn Merenda  |    merendal@plancom.org  |  Direct: 813.273.3774 x342
 
Switchboard: 813.272.5940  |  Website: PlanHillsborough.org
What is Plan Hillsborough?

Plan Hillsborough provides value-added planning services through a diverse team of professionals working towards a thriving future for Tampa, Temple Terrace, Plant City, and Hillsborough County, and provides staff to the:

Promotes, coordinates, collaborates with, and facilitates the involvement of all people in comprehensive planning and visioning to improve economic development opportunities and quality of life in our community
A long-range transportation policy-making board made up of local government and transportation agency representatives planning for more than $1.5 billion
in state and federally funded multi-modal transportation investments in the first 5 years of each 20+ year plan
Responsible for promoting collaborative planning, regulation, and development along the river corridor while ensuring the environmental health of the river running through Hillsborough County and the cities of Tampa and Temple Terrace