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Conference Centers on Building Healthy Places

A public health expert told Kentucky community leaders that making their towns healthier is about much more than just doctors and medicine. Credit: Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.
A public health expert told Kentucky community leaders that making their towns healthier is about much more than just doctors and medicine. Credit: Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.
September 29, 2015

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – A nationally-known public health expert on Monday told community leaders from across Kentucky that education provides the biggest opportunity to make their communities healthier places to live.

Dr. Tony Iton, a physician who oversees a 10-year, multimillion-dollar effort to build healthy communities in California, delivered the keynote address at a health policy forum in Bowling Green. According to Iton, when a community improves the quality of its public schools it translates into more jobs and higher incomes.

"It also improves property values," he said. "It attracts business and improves peoples' perception of the quality of their life."

Iton told community leaders there are "no silver bullets" that make a community healthier. Instead, he said multiple things have to be addressed simultaneously, and community leaders have to work across disciplines.

Iton, senior vice president for Healthy Communities at The California Endowment, says your zip code is more important than your genetic code in predicting your health status. He added going to the doctor and taking medication is a very small part of what shapes health in a community.

"What's more important is really how the neighborhoods are laid out, he said. "Whether they're walkable. Whether there are things to walk to, like grocery stores and parks. How people get along together and whether there are jobs."

Iton said there are different parts of the U.S. where people spend less on health care, but are much healthier because their communities are investing in the things that matter – including transportation, housing, food and business.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY