Envisioning and Building a Healthy Detroit

DETROIT—Nicholas Mukhtar, Founder of Healthy Detroit, has big plans for a creating a healthier city.

At age 24, aspiring medical professional, Nicholas Mukhtar, isn’t wasting any time working to shift the culture of health in his hometown, Detroit. While pursuing a Masters of Public Health from John Hopkins University, he’s chosen to defer his medical education to establish Healthy Detroit, a non-profit organization and social movement to promote chronic disease prevention through healthier lifestyles and environments.

“Healthy Detroit aims to provide residents with the education, resources and tools they need to live healthy lifestyles at every stage of their lives,” Mukhtar says.

Incorporated in February 2012, Healthy Detroit now has a Facebook page, website, merchandise for sale, and an ambitious strategic plan. Thanks to D:hive’s BUILD Program and mentorship from Thrive Detroit’s founder, Delphia Simmons, Nick created the first organization in the country designed specifically in response to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and the United States Surgeon General’s National Prevention Strategy.

Healthy Detroit aims to impact education, resources and culture in the city. Mukhtar is quick to point out that tackling just one aspect won’t affect change—they are all intricately intertwined.

Education: Starting with Schools

Healthy Detroit will offer a mentorship program in partnership with schools over one-to-two years. At each school, public health professionals will observe the existing culture of health and wellness among students, teachers and faculty, and tailor programs and curriculum for health education and promotion.

Come year three, Mukhtar anticipates schools will be self-sufficient and eligible for a Healthy Detroit Schools designation and blue ribbon certification. Already, nearly 30 schools throughout the city—mostly charters—have expressed an interest in serving as pilots.

Resources: Build it and They Will Come

To complement school-based learning and provide a place for youth and their families to gather and recreate after school or work hours, Healthy Detroit will develop an existing park (at least 20 acres large) in each of the seven city council districts, that will include the following features:

  • State-of-the-art outdoor athletic facilities (e.g., volleyball, basketball, baseball, and soccer fields, and walking and biking paths);
  • Indoor recreation facilities with cardio equipment, weights, fitness studios, classrooms and an auditorium for community meetings;
  • A primary health care facility for basic preventive health care needs (e.g., vaccinations and screenings);
  • Public art and inspiring murals by local artists;
  • Green infrastructure and trees for improved storm-water management;
  • Reclaimed materials from abandoned structures for park construction;
  • Rotating district farmers markets each day of the week;
  • Urban farms to be incorporated into school curriculums and youth education; and
  • Private security and solar lighting for minimal reliance on city safety services.

Which parks will be developed has yet to be determined.

Data Driven Detroit will help us figure out population density and where the most children live ... the Detroit Recreation Department has offered information about which parks it needs help to maintain,” Mukhtar says.

Ideally, the parks will be centrally located in each district, and Healthy Detroit will break ground early next year.

Culture: Making Healthy Cool

The third aspect of Healthy Detroit is a social movement to empower residents to make healthy lifestyle choices. Using mobile application technology, Healthy Detroit will offer designations for healthy restaurants, organizations, fitness centers and businesses.

Health fairs and free screening events will be listed online, and people will be able to check-in, earn points and participate in a citywide competition to earn prizes like the first pitch at a Tiger’s game.

An “I am Healthy Detroit” campaign using social media, billboards and commercials will encourage healthy choices and behaviors, and inform people about the state of the city’s health.

Celebrities and professional athletes will sport Healthy Detroit apparel, and be featured billboards to help grow the movement.

“Maybe kids will see some positive message or statistic on their way to school instead of just an abandoned building,” Mukhtar says.

Window of Opportunity

Though this may seem like an enormous endeavor—which it is—Mukhtar feels this is the opportune moment to make a difference in Detroit’s health. He cites Detroit’s collaborative environment as a critical element in starting this initiative.

“Detroit is unlike anywhere in the country because people are so willing to work together. ...We all want a healthy and great place to live,” he says.

Next Steps

As Healthy Detroit solidifies its Board of Directors, it continues to explore partnerships and is developing its master plan for distribution.

Funding the initiative will require public-private partnerships, though most funding is expected to come from the roughly $10 billion Congress has allocated for prevention-based programs such as this across the country.

Already, Healthy Detroit has received recognition as one of the premier partners in prevention in the National Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health Council’s 2013 Annual Status Report.


Visit Healthy Detroit online or their Facebook page. Join the movement by sporting some Healthy Detroit merchandise. With questions, email co-founder, Eric Holka.

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