26 August 2010

Obesity still weighing on York County

The York Daily Record/Sunday News has been devoting a lot of pages to chronicling York County's ongoing weight struggles. "Fat Battleground" started with a story that explored the fact that York is one of the most obese counties in the state. Other stories have covered how and why we get fat, and future stories will focus on solutions.

YorkCounts cares about this because obesity was one of the 38 indicators we tracked in our 2009 report. Depending on which numbers you look at, the county's obesity rate is somewhere in the range of 25 to 35 percent, meaning that anywhere from a quarter to a third of adults qualify as obese. In our numbers, which come from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the rate has hovered around 25 percent. The Healthy York County Coalition, which has been monitoring the health of York County every three years since 1994 through Community Health Assessments, reported numbers fluctuating between 26 percent and 39 percent. All the numbers show us falling short of HYCC's target of reaching 20 percent by the year 2000.

In 2009, YorkCounts and HYCC, along with a small group of community stakeholders, held some preliminary meetings on developing a comprehensive strategy for bringing the numbers down. The reasons for doing so are well established: obesity's the connection to a range of chronic illnesses, the loss of quality of life, the higher costs of medical care and insurance.

The meetings didn't get beyond the preliminary stage for various reasons. But these York Daily Record stories show that a serious public health problem remains. First Lady Michelle Obama brought childhood obesity to the national spotlight earlier this year. Businesses continue to be plagued with soaring health care costs, due partly to overweight employees.

York city recognized the connection between obesity, public health and quality of life when it became an ACHIEVE community this year. ACHIEVE is a national program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that supports communities working to "develop and implement policy, systems, and environmental change strategies that can help prevent or manage health risk factors" related to a range of chronic health conditions, including obesity

The city is the driving force for ACHIEVE, and obesity and its related problems are slightly more pronounced in the city, but the effort surely can be connected to broader action to reduce obesity countywide. That would mean using amenities such as the Heritage Rail Trail County Park to connect walking paths and bike routes to popular downtown destinations. It would mean giving thought to pedestrian access in the site design of economic development projects.

And that's just a start. Other players would include the schools and day-care facilities, which play a huge role with the food choices that offer to children. Fitness-oriented organizations such as the YMCA and the YWCA would be involved. The fledgling York County Buy Fresh Buy Local chapter could be involved as a way to put more locally grown fruit, vegetables and meats in front of local consumers.

What do you think? What should a comprehensive community strategy for reducing obesity look like? Feel free to weigh in with your opinions here.

An update, 9:30 a.m. 8/27:
After this post went up, I heard from Cori Strathmyer, wellness coordinator at the YMCA of York and York County. Cori is a member of the 14-person team working on the community-health effort. She said while the program has a city focus intially, the plan is to take what works in the city and eventually use it as a model throughout the county. And while they are part of the CDC's ACHIEVE program, they are branding the effort under the banner "Eat Play Breathe York." We say: "Go, Eat Play Breathe!" Here's their Web site: http://www.achievecommunities.org/YorkPA/Pages/default.aspx. You can read all of what she said in the comments section.

And a correction:
In the August e-newsletter that went out this week, I detailed the town hall meetings YorkCounts and the York-Adams Regional Smart Growth Coalition were doing, in partnership with the York County Economic Development Corp. and the York County Planning Commmission. If you clicked on the link from the newsletter to the information about the meetings, you might have seen an incorrect e-mail address to register. The correct address is: shanna@yorkadamssmartgrowth.org.

- Dan Fink


Cori Strathmeyer said...

The ACHIEVE Leadership Team has been working hard this summer to create a Community Action Plan for the city of York. It is our vision to make the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone in York and York County. Our initial focus is on making these positive changes within York City and then taking that model into the county. ACHIEVE is an acronym for Action Communities for Health, Innovation and EnVironment ChangE, a name that is a little hard for the community to grasp. Hence the initiative is now called "Eat~Play~Breathe~York!" Our focus is to improve nutrition, increase physical activity, and decrease tobacco use. Although the YMCA of York and York County received the grant and CDC designation, this initiative is a partnership of key organizations who can effectively provide change. The Eat~Play~Breathe~York Leadership team includes:
Barbara Kovacs, Director, York City Bureau of Health;
Kevin Alvarnez, Director, WellSpan Community Health Improvement;
Jim Gross, Director, York City Public Works;
Kevin Schreiber, Director, York City Economic Development
Genevieve Ray, President, York City Council;
Sharon Miller, Superintendent, York City Schools;
Brandon Hufnagle, Assistant Superintendent York City Schools;
Jonathan Heintzman, Information Specialist, York City Schools;
Jessica Fieldhouse, Director, Resources for Urban Neighborhoods;
Bob Jensenius, Vice President, Chamber of Commerce;
Robin Rohrbaugh, Director, Healthy York County Coalition;
Bob Woods, Executive Director, United Way of York;
Gwen Loose, Director, York Rail Trail Authority;
Cori Strathmeyer, Wellness Coordinator, YMCA of York and York County

Eat~Play~Breath~York will work with existing organizations as well as help to develop new ones to create a healthier York. Our new website can be accessed from the following link:
For more information, contact Cori Strathmeyer cstrathmeyer@yorkcoymca.org 843-7884 x269

Deron said...

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions that need to be addressed if we're going to effectively reverse the obesity trends. Awareness campaigns and a a more coordinated message from the healthcare community will be necessary. We also need to get a better handle on the psychosocial factors driving unhealthy behavior.

I was pleased to see the newspaper company take on this issue. That was a bold move in a community like York. Hopefully we can use it to jump start a larger effort.

Keith Kahlbaugh said...

In order to help prevent obesity we need to start at the root of the problem and address the manufacturers that produce food and beverages that have no nutritional value. There are so...many foods with food colorings, flavorings and sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup with no value what so ever. The next step is to work with our government to replace the school lunches with high quality choices and remove all vending machines that offer non-nutritional food and drinks. Most of the drinks in these vending machines will deteriorate the health of these children. It’s about education and should start in the classroom! I approached a local school in York County a few years ago about making such changes and all I heard was, much of the food is federally funded and the choice of foods is theirs.

Keith Kahlbaugh
York, PA

YorkCounts said...

Deron, you're absolutely right about the need for a coordianted message and for understanding about the underlying causes. Hopefully, the Eat Play Breate York group that Cori described will work on that. And Keith, I like your idea about working with food manufacturers. Central PA is known as the snack food capitol of the world. We may as well recruit those folks into this effort. And, yes, it seems like a no-brainer to take vending machines with junk food and soda out of schools. I'd love to know more about how a school could say it wasn't their decision.