Focus On Health

Published 5:25 pm Tuesday, February 19, 2013

PRINCE EDWARD – The Piedmont Community Health Coalition wants to get things moving in a healthy direction.

“…We've been slowly developing this community health coalition over the past eight months or so starting with a small group of…fairly dedicated folks trying to get a reasonable cross section of agencies…,” detailed Piedmont Health District Director Dr. Alexander Samuel.

Now they're at a point, with the help of a Department of Health's Office of Family Health Services grant, to kick off a campaign.

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“…We're hoping to use (this grant) as kind of a mechanism to really give this coalition some identity…sink our teeth into this process of figuring out a way to, as a group, address a problem and then, in the future, have some tools to address other problems,” said Dr. Alexander Samuel.

The coalition includes individuals and groups interested in healthy and active living throughout the planning district. The competitive grant offered by the Virginia Department of Health, Dr. Samuel cited, was primarily aimed at obesity prevention.

“It is,” Dr. Samuel said, of it being a big issue for the region. “You know…in terms of statistics, it varies by county, but the range is roughly 31 percent to 34 percent obesity rates in our seven counties.”

For the state, the rate is 28 percent.

So aren't rural areas typically more active? It's harder to unravel the causes, Dr. Samuel assesses.

“…I think there's probably some kind of socio-demographic factors wrapped into this,” Dr. Samuel said. “Rural areas now tend to be a little bit more older in terms of population, so…that could influence mobility to some degree.”

What they also sort of see, he also assesses, is less access to more kind of routine ways to get physical exercise that are fun to do.

He also noted that access to healthy foods year-around is an issue here as well.

“…There are parts of the district that are designated as what they call quote, unquote, food deserts, which…is simply a function of not having access to fresh fruits and vegetables year- around,” Dr. Samuel said. “So, you know, apart from summertime when people are growing these things…if you don't can them, you might not necessarily be able to get nutritious foods that easily.”

In the long-term, Dr. Samuel thinks the efforts with school lunches will help.

Components to the grant include providing information related to healthy eating and active living. The goal, Dr. Samuel also cited, is to do a monthly print media and radio media provided by a local expert.

And then there's Piedmont Out Walking, or POW!

“…That is a more or less a team walking challenge with an educational component as well,” Dr. Samuel said.

Competing teams (numbering up to a maximum of eight) can sign up and compete for specific prizes-in addition to achieving a healthier lifestyle.

“So we're hoping that people will form teams through … churches, their places of work, civic organizations, even individuals (can) gather teams-families can gather teams. Every team member will get a pedometer and a walking journal and we will teach you how to use both of those to best effect. And there will be three classes-one class a month-for members of these teams to learn more about physical activity…healthy eating…and then motivation to continue these behaviors over time,” Dr. Samuel said.

They will be offered at five locations. Individuals can come to the classes without walking and he noted they also understand that not everyone will be able to make a class but still want to participate in a team.

“…Included in the class is an assessment-a physical assessment, your weight, body mass index, planning a blood pressure as well, at both the beginning and at the very end (to) give you just some sense of whether there's been a change,” Dr. Samuel said.

March 1 is the start of POW! Walkers could use the High Bridge Trail, the mall…anywhere.

“…Another important facet to the team is that it's a social endeavor and there's evidence, plenty of good evidence to suggest that doing things as a group, particularly with regard to physical activity, makes it stick,” Dr. Samuel said.

The goal is that it becomes part their lifestyle.

Each team, he said, should designate a team leader and they hope to offer leadership development to team leaders to help them motivate their teams during and after the challenge.

Incentives will be offered for teams walking the most and there will also be prizes at the end of the challenge. One confirmed prize is a membership to the Y for the top two winning teams.

The final activity, the High Bridge Trail Challenge, is a community event. Winners of the POW! will be honored at the event and there will either be a challenge of sorts on the trail-perhaps a walk, run or a combination that day.

They hope coalition members will be represented at the event, too, to share what they offer the community in services.

Dr. Samuel envisions it as a health fair of sorts and will be a way to hopefully turn the effort into something continuous. And others are welcome to join in the Piedmont Community Health Coalition.

(For a team application to participate in POW! call Justine Young at (434) 414-3036 or Google search “Piedmont Health District” on the Internet. The team application deadline is Friday, February 22.)