Sussex Outdoors summit focuses on healthy living

State officials outline initiatives aimed at changing behaviors
Sussex legislators and Gov. Jack Markell were honored at the Sussex Outdoors summit for their continued support of expanded trail networks and other healthy living initiatives in Sussex County.  Shown are (l-r) Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach; Sen. Bob Venables, D-Laurel; Rep. John Atkins, R-Millsboro; Markell, Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes; Rep. Harvey Kenton, R-Milford; Rep. Dave Wilson, R-Bridgeville; and Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View. BY DENNIS FORNEY
October 29, 2013

Sussex Outdoors, an initiative encouraging children and adults to get outside and improve their health, convened its third annual summit at Stockley Center recently. Spearheaded by John Hollis and a board of directors, Sussex Outdoors works closely with Nemours Prevention and Health Services, government officials and volunteers to spread the word about the importance of healthy eating and regular exercise.

Attendees included Gov. Jack Markell, Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin O'Mara, Division of Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay, Division of Parks Director Chaz Salkin, members of Delaware's General Assembly, Sussex County Council members, Sussex chamber of commerce representatives and employees of various state divisions involved in outdoor recreation and wellness initiatives.

Rattay emphasized that smoking, diet and active living continue to be the big three factors affecting the health of Delaware residents. “We're working on changing the culture of health in our state and focusing on the built environment to support healthy behavior where we live, learn, work and play,” she said. She noted that the Markell administration's aggressive First State Trails and Pathways Plan is designed to connect communities with trails and to encourage active living.

“We're also working to give people access to healthy eating through community gardens, healthy vending machine programs, allowing the use of EBT cards at farmers markets - overall, trying to give people lower-cost access to fruits and vegetables,” said Rattay. She is the author of the Nemours 5-2-1-Almost None campaign - also adopted by the state - which encourages children to eat five helpings of fruit and vegetables each day, spend no more than two hours a day in front of a computer or TV screen, get at least one hour of outdoor exercise each day and drink almost no sugary beverages. “Sugary beverages are a big reason for overweight, obesity and diabetes problems in this country,” said Rattay. “There's been a significant increase in the consumption of sugary beverages through the years, and we have to reverse that. If people would get rid of just one sugary beverage per day they would lose 15 pounds in a year.” She said the state is working on a healthy beverage campaign called Rethink Your Drink.

Moving from talk to walk

O'Mara said Delaware is now moving from talking about it to getting projects on the ground. He noted that the Doe Bridge Nature Area adjacent to the Stockley complex is at the epicenter of activity and health in Sussex. And he also emphasized the importance of expanding Delaware's system of trails. He said society is at a critical place in time. “Those who didn't grow up with outdoor activities are having kids now. It's important that we start to focus on those who are leaning toward TV instead of the outdoors. We need to get folks participating.” He noted that Delaware has built 10 new miles of trails in the past year, with design work under way for many more.

Landgraf said Health and Social Services is still taking a hard look at how the state can best use the 750-acre Stockley complex for the health of Delawareans. “We are absolutely not closing Stockley, but we have about 70 residents here now compared to the 700-plus that we had here in the 1970s. With its central location in Sussex County [south of Georgetown], Stockley has the potential of being a valuable resource for health and outdoor activity.”

Hollis, Landgraf and Rattay expressed their thanks to all who promote healthy living and eating in Delaware and presented them with mementos of the Sussex Outdoors event.

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