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Community Profile: King County, Washington

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Obesity and Tobacco Use Prevention

No Smoking sign and a diverse group of school-aged boys compete in a potato sack race

— Shelley Cooper-Ashford, Executive Director, Center for MultiCultural Health, and Co-Chair, Seattle/King County’s CPPW Coalition

Additional Resources

For more information, please visit

— Auburn School District student

Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) is an initiative designed to make healthy living easier by promoting environmental changes at the local level. Through funding awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010, a total of 50 communities are working to prevent obesity and tobacco use—the two leading preventable causes of death and disability.

Community Overview

King County, Washington, which includes the city of Seattle, is tackling obesity and tobacco use throughout the community. The combined percentage of overweight and obese adults in the county has increased over the past decade and is currently 55.5%. Nearly 22% of county youths are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. Tobacco use prevention is also a priority in this community of more than 1.9 million residents. Approximately 14% of King County 10th graders are current smokers and nearly 5% use smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco, dipping tobacco, or snuff.

Obesity and tobacco use rates are disproportionately high among certain populations in King County. Specifically, blacks, American Indians, and Alaska Natives bear the disproportionate burden of obesity. Obesity rates among high school students who are ethnic minorities are double that of white high school students. Tobacco use rates are much higher among residents earning low-income wages, communities of color, and immigrant and refugee populations. While the smoking rate for white adults in the county is 12.6%, black adults smoke at an increased rate of 20.2%. Further, 31.2% of American-Indian and Alaska-Native adults in the county smoke. In addition to obesity and tobacco use prevention efforts aimed at the county’s entire population, certain initiatives target these high-risk populations.

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Community Successes

If healthy options are not available, then healthy living is not possible. With the support of the CPPW initiative, King County has implemented a variety of changes throughout the community to make healthy living easier.

To decrease the prevalence of obesity, King County:

  • Developed the Mapping Our Voices for Equality (MOVE) initiative. This innovative digital storytelling effort featured 51 videos created by South Seattle residents on nutrition and health. This initiative will reach approximately 100,000 residents in four communities.
  • Collaborated with 11 south-end farmers’ markets to ensure that the 70,000 and 20,000 low-income residents who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) vouchers, respectively, can use these benefits to purchase healthy fruits and vegetables.
  • Developed digital menu boards to provide nutritional information for 7,212 students in three middle schools and three high schools in the county. The menu features symbols designed by students participating in the Student Nutrition Council to indicate the nutritional value of different meal options.
  • Enlisted 27 establishments and businesses to participate in Healthy Foods Here, a program to increase access to healthy food options through small corner and convenience stores.
  • Incorporated elements of King County Board of Healthy Planning for Healthy Communities Guidelines into land-use and transportation plans in eight south King County cities. This effort will affect approximately 600,000 residents, ensuring they have improved access to healthy food and physical activity.

To decrease tobacco use, King County:

  • Communicated the importance of decreasing exposure to tobacco and increasing access to smoke-free places through the launch of the local initiative, Let’s Do This. This effort uses television, web, and outdoor advertising to raise awareness of the benefits of smoke-free environments.
  • Protected 127,691 Seattle youth aged 12-17 from exposure to tobacco by prohibiting the sale of electronic cigarettes and other unregulated nicotine delivery devices to minors and by banning the distribution of free samples.
  • Secured commitments from 46 mental health and chemical dependency treatment agencies to integrate treatment protocols for tobacco addiction into their services. Additionally, 38 of these programs will have smoke-free campuses by March 2012. Combined, these agencies serve nearly 60,000 clients each year.
  • Collaborated with nine King County housing providers–including Seattle Housing Authority, King County Housing Authority, and Housing Resources Group–to develop plans that eliminate residents’ exposure to secondhand smoke by March 2012. Properties recently began converting 9,000 units to be smoke-free.

(The list above is a sample of all activities completed by the community.)

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High School Students Create Media Campaign to Fight Childhood Obesity

Students from King County’s Auburn High School created the public awareness initiative Commit to Fit to empower students to make healthy choices. The main component of this student-led effort is a reward program in which students and school staff can earn points by engaging in healthy activities, such as 60 minutes of daily exercise or organizing healthy community events. The points can be redeemed for prizes and rewards. The initiative had a tremendous response, and just two weeks after the website’s launch, more than 2,200 students and staff had registered.

Four King County Hospitals to Become Smoke-free

King County is working to protect health care providers and patients from the dangers of secondhand smoke. Four King County hospitals have committed to eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke on all campuses and implementing protocols for addressing tobacco dependence among patients, visitors, and staff. The University of Washington Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center are among the hospitals engaged in this effort. Together, these two hospitals and their affiliated clinics have more than 8,000 employees and 3,000 physicians, and account for 41,000 patient admissions and one million outpatient and emergency room visits each year.

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Leadership Team

The leadership team includes high-level community leaders from multiple sectors, who have the combined resources and capacity to make healthy living easier. Members of King County’s leadership team are key agents for change in their community. The leadership team includes representatives from the following organizations:

  • Office of the Mayor, City of Kent
  • Office of the Mayor, City of Seattle
  • Committee on Health and Long-Term Care, Washington State Senate
  • Free & Clear, Inc.
  • Highline Public Schools
  • King County Board of Health
  • Nesholm Family Foundation
  • Seattle and King County Department of Public Health
  • Seattle Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center
  • Seattle Public Schools
  • University of Washington

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  • Page last reviewed: August 14, 2015
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