Group narrows focus of work

New director appointed for county initiative

Any hope of reducing Jackson County’s obesity rate — the highest in the state in 2012 — will rest on several factors, including finding more sources of healthy food and promoting exercise through more parks and recreation areas and affordable gymnasiums.

Those findings came from a second meeting of the committee committed to finding the best ways to spend a $1.15 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During that Jan. 23 meeting at the Community Foundation of Jackson County office in Seymour, it also was announced that a program director had been put in place and would soon go to work.

The grant is being shared by Jackson and Lawrence counties. In 2012, Jackson County’s obesity rate was 39 percent. In 2007, that rate, which involves the number of people reporting a body mass index of 30 or more, was 31 percent.

Lawrence County had the state’s second-highest obesity rate at 38 percent in 2012. The lowest rate in the state that year was 21 percent recorded by nearby Monroe County.

One of the first orders of business at the meeting was to put an Indiana Healthy Community Champion in place for Jackson County.

That goal was accomplished with the appointment of Molly Marshall of Seymour as Jackson County’s Community Champion, said Richard Beckort, director of Purdue Extension Jackson County.

Marshall, who works with Healthy Communities through Columbus Regional Health, will start Feb. 1. Her job will be working with the committee and community to put strategies in place and build community partnerships that will focus on obesity reduction and prevention.

Beckort said since 2012, local groups and organizations have been working to address some of the obesity issues, but there has not been a coordinated effort to do so, and bringing those groups together to bring more focus to the issue is the hope.

Purdue Extension Jackson County is working with health experts at Purdue University to develop and implement strategies to address the county’s rate. The public also is involved in the process and can attend any meetings of the group.

Tanya Hall, the Community Development Champion and regional educator for Purdue University Southeast, led the meeting where attendees discussed some barriers to living a healthy lifestyle in Jackson County.

Four main challenges were pinpointed by those in attendance. They were a lack of physical activity, a lack of healthy food consumption, a lack of access to healthy foods and a lack of any countywide effort to reduce obesity.

Some of the possible ideas to combat the problem include bringing a YMCA or similar facility to the county; educating the public about the need for physical activity and how it can be fit it into busy schedules; and the need for more family-oriented fitness clubs or groups. One of the end results might be more after-school fitness groups and fitness programs in churches.

Some of the other challenges are that prepackaged and fast foods are readily available while healthier food is harder to find. The group also discussed the lack in variety of healthy food and the high cost of some of it.

The group talked about the need for educating the public about fast food and food in general, busting the myth that all healthy foods are expensive and partnering with local doctors for ways to educate parents on healthy eating for their children.

Other ideas tossed around include finding sources for fresher food, such as the local farmers markets and even at gas stations and convenience and discount stores. That way, people could have more home-cooked foods and find easier ways of healthy eating and cooking.

Other suggestions include discounted food days, such as senior citizen days; in-store demonstrations of how to use fruits and vegetables; and mobile stands with healthy foods and snacks.

The lack of a communitywide effort to deal with obesity might be addressed in several ways, including sharing healthy ideas and recipes on social media and using existing facilities to grow programs.

The group plans to meet again in five or six weeks, but a date, time and place have yet to be set.