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Official: Health initiative ‘seeing success’

Jun. 08, 2013 @ 12:24 AM

HUNTINGTON — Six months of meetings, presentations, partnerships and initiatives is starting to put the “change” in the Change the Future WV program.

Tim Hazelett, region 4 director of the program, said change is happening in the region’s decisions about active living and healthy eating thanks to community support and individual involvement. The program is part of a community transformation grant presented to the state of West Virginia by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“That’s the biggest reason we’re seeing success ... because of community collaboration,” Hazelett said.

Housed in the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, Hazelett and his team span a nine-county region working with community groups, churches, businesses and more to increase healthy food options at community venues, make health screenings and education programs more available and encourage business owners to offer locally grown fruits and vegetables in conspicuous locations.

Hazelett said more than 30 locations including convenience stores, grocery stores, Walmarts and specialty markets such as Healthy Life Market at Drug Emporium have installed signage for the initiative in their stores and are helping to get the “healthy message” out to the community.

“The Wild Ramp is running EBT machines in their store so they can accept SNAP benefits as well as credit and debit cards,” said Hazelett said, detailing some of the changes his team has enacted in the past six months. “We have now 19 certified community health education resource people locally who are training to provide health information on topics related to health, nutrition and physical activity.

“We have all the Walmarts with the exception of one signed on to our healthy checkout initiative where they offer fruit and healthy options at checkout instead of only candy and junk food. Both Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s have implemented a tobacco-free campus and Marshall University is in the process of that as well, and we have tobacco-free parks in Jackson County.

“We are working with our extension agents locally to offer diabetes self-management and prevention classes. We’re working with Marshall’s Center for Rural Health and their diabetes program. We’re at health fairs in schools. Any opportunity we get to speak to Rotary or ministerial associations or small groups, we’re there.

“It’s a slow process with grassroots efforts, but we are seeing a lot of community buy-in,” Hazelett offered.

Hazelett said having lots of small projects with small goals ultimately leads to a big, overall impact.

“Can we change our community’s designation as one of the most unhealthy in the country? Of course, but it’s not going to happen overnight. We didn’t get here overnight,” he said. “These small projects where community members are getting involved in making change in their own areas will eventually add together to lead to bigger outcomes and will, ultimately, lead to a healthier city.”

The threefold focus of the grant, extended through 2016 to focus on priorities for healthier living, is tobacco-free living; active living and healthy eating; and, quality clinical and preventive services to prevent and control high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

By addressing the leading causes of chronic disease such as tobacco use, obesity, poor nutrition and health disparities at the local level, Hazelett said change is possible.

“If you think you’re just one person who can’t have an impact, yes you can, by helping us build this one piece at a time,” he said. “We’re at the six-month point right now and we’re starting to see things take hold, and every little thing makes a positive impact.

“It’s going to take some time to see these health rankings change, but we’re going to get there.”

Hazelett said the Change the Future WV team is available to meet with any group in his nine-county service region, which includes Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, Mingo, Boone, Jackson and Putnam counties.

“If one individual has an idea or thought we can bring to fruition and make it into something, we want to hear it,” he said.

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.



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