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Lynnett Renner

Making a Difference

Lynnett Renner

A Bridge to Possibilities

It was so energizing to see Born Too Soon and More Than Child’s Play because it was a validation of all the things that we as health professionals have seen, what research and evidence says.
Lynnett Renner – Cumberland Valley District Health Department

If you drive through the Clay County city of Manchester today, you’’ll see a shift occurring in this small mountain town. A sea change is taking place. It’s becoming a community that supports healthy lifestyles.

A long-dilapidated swinging bridge, a bouncy fixture of life along narrow hollers, running through the center of town, has been repaired and connected to a walking path, leading pedestrians to a community park on the other side of town.

And that park, located along a busy road, is now flanked by crosswalks and warning signs. For the first time, people can safely cross the road—a significant addition for a county that has had only one painted crosswalk in its entire history.

These improvements, says Cumberland Valley District Health Department director Lynnett Renner, represent real changes in culture. They’re the fruit, she said, of the policy changes that have occurred when professionals as disparate as dietitians and transportation engineers work toward a common goal.

“Individually, change is so hard,” said Renner, who says most of her clients can tell you how many fruits and vegetables you need to eat a day, how much exercise you need to do—but fail to act on that knowledge.

“If the healthy choice is not the easy choice, they can’t do it,” she said.

But make it convenient—and more importantly, possible—and people with some of the worst rates of obesity, diabetes, and tobacco use in the country can make real changes in their lives, she said.

About the time Renner was beginning to embrace new research, which said teaching people how to be healthier alone didn’t work, she viewed KET’s Born Too Soon and More Than Child’s Play. Both programs, funded in part by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, showcase other Kentucky communities where such cultural shifts were being made and demonstrate such shifts could result in better health for the people living there.

“As I watched each one of those health programs, I saw them as a bridge to possibilities,” said Renner.

“With limited staff and resources, the health department couldn’t do it alone. But we brought together partners—local government, the city councils, the local hospital, the board of education, there was a community buy-in.”

Those groups, who came from different perspectives, each wanted to help citizens be healthier. Each one, Renner said, supplied a different piece of the pie.

“When you’re looking at population-based health, when you’re looking at changing policies that change the environment, you’re able to reach more people,” she said. “And as those people make changes successfully, they share it. And then you’re changing social norms.”

After viewing the program, Renner immediately purchased copies of Born Too Soon videos to show to expectant mothers. When it was demonstrated that carbon-monoxide analyzers could be used to convince smoking moms to kick the habit, she purchased those, too. But even more, Renner eagerly embraced the larger message of the documentaries.

“It was so energizing to see Born Too Soon and More Than Child’s Play because it was a validation of all the things that we as health professionals have seen, what research and evidence says,” she said. “And then it was followed up with practical and achievable ideas that people, not just health professionals, but the whole community, applied. And they were making a difference.

“That’s what KET does with those documentaries,” she added. “They showed people who were doing something that was based on this research and bringing it to life.”