Roanoke selected for national effort to improve health in low-income neighborhoods

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) The tomatoes are ripe and the produce pristine at the West End Community Market in Roanoke.

The farmers market on Patterson Avenue is devoted to bringing fresh, local food to an under-served neighborhood. And it's the kind of effort that could have a big impact on the health of the people who live here.

Roanoke is one of 50 cities, joining a new national effort to improve health in low-income neighborhoods. A local team will focus on building better access to healthy food, physical activity and public transportation.

"Of the 133 jurisdictions in Virginia, we are ranked 112th for quality of life, and 127th for health behaviors," says Roanoke College Professor Liz Ackley-Holbrook.

Holbrook says the region's health statistics are in sharp contrast to its reputation as a center of scenic beauty and outdoor recreation, but she also sees a major opportunity for improvement.

"And when you think of the environment that we have here, if we can just bolster the resources that we have and address these issues related to health equity, I mean we can make big-scale changes," Ackley-Holbrook told WDBJ7.

The West End Community Market brings fresh local food to the neighborhood, and makes it more affordable for low-income residents.

LEAP, the organization that operates the market, is one of the partners in the new Invest Health initiative, along with Roanoke College, the city of Roanoke, Freedom First Federal Credit Union and the United Way.

Market Manager Tee Reynolds believes the coordinated approach will pay off.

"You look at a spider web," Reynolds said, "and you'll see one strand. And that one strand is not going to catch a lot of flies. Now, you got an internet of different people coming in together, we going to get something done."

The West End Community Market is open every Tuesday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and if the Invest Health initiative takes off as its partners hope, the market will be the beginning of a movement toward a healthier city.