Piedmont Health District Receives Grant to Combat Obesity in Rural Areas

January 17, 2013

The Piedmont Health District has received a multifaceted grant from the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Family Health Services to help local communities address the overweight and obesity problem that’s become increasingly common in rural parts of the health district, the state, and the country.  Based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey data, the seven counties that comprise the Piedmont Health District have obesity rates that range from 31% to 34%, compared to the state average of 28%.

“We can reduce the rates of certain chronic diseases like diabetes, for example, by addressing the factors that influence these diseases.  Controlling excess weight through exercise has been shown to protect against a number of diseases like certain types of cancer, certain types of heart disease, and diabetes, to name a few,” said Alexander Samuel, MD, health director of the Piedmont Health District. “The focus of this grant is on helping communities promote exercise and healthy eating as ways to address overweight and obesity, but this is just the start.  We hope this will spark important discussions about ways we can work together to address other important health problems we face.”

No single agency or organization can solve a problem like overweight or obesity.  One benefit of community-based approaches is that they utilize many avenues to promote an important health message.

“A common health message can reach an individual in several different ways, each slightly personalized.  Imagine if you heard that your employer was sponsoring a walking group, your church was having a speaker talk about healthy eating, and your town was developing a walking trail.  Knowing that many of the places where we spend our time are interested in our health could give someone the encouragement and tools to take some positive steps toward improving their health,” said Jane Schirmer, Executive Director of the Southside Virginia Family YMCA in Farmville.

Another benefit of community based approaches is that they can strengthen the network of groups that have an interest in community health, potentially bringing together hospitals, local governments, businesses, civic organizations, health departments, places of worship, local YMCAs, medical providers, and concerned citizens to work together on a whole host of local health needs.

Another key goal of this grant is to develop a growing coalition of local organizations and individuals who have been meeting since early last spring.

“I’m proud to be a part of the Piedmont Community Health Coalition,” said Justine Young, BSN, RN, MBA, health educator with the Massey Cancer Center, who’s been active with the group since its inception.    “We’re using this grant’s focus on obesity prevention and physical activity promotion as a way to learn how to organize around an issue and learn how to work together as a community-based team.  The programs that we’ve come up with borrow heavily from the expertise that each of these groups brings to the table.”

The Piedmont Out Walking! (POW!) program focuses on developing social walking groups that can be organized by churches, places of business, civic groups, or interested citizens.  Participants in the POW! program have access to classes that will meet once a month for three months covering topics related to nutrition, motivation and healthy behavior, and the benefits of physical activity.  Teaching people about local physical activity resources is included as well.  The POW! program uses friendly competition to get groups walking as much as they can.  Team members will be given pedometers to track their activity and will compete against other teams for prizes based on their pedometer readings.  Anyone interested in putting together a team can find a team signup sheet on the Piedmont Health District web-page.  If you have internet access, you can search for “Piedmont Health District” on Google or another internet search engine, or contact Justine Young and a paper version of the signup sheet will be mailed to you.  For more information about the POW! Program, contact Justine Young at (434) 414-3036.

Another grant related activity will be the High Bridge Trail Challenge, which is currently scheduled for early June.  The Challenge will be a community-wide opportunity for physical activity and health and wellness promotion.  The event will be used to recognize the winning teams from the POW! program, plus offer an organized challenge scheduled for that day open to anyone.

The final grant activity is a community health education campaign that will get started this month and run through the end of June, when the grant officially ends.  The Health Education campaign will offer monthly health promotion messages in local print media and radio, with local experts providing insight into different health and wellness topics.