DOBSON — While efforts to improve the health of Surry County residents are showing promising results, information gleaned from this year’s County Health Assessment shows that there is more to be done in the areas of childhood obesity and tobacco abuse.
This was the message delivered to the county board of commissioners last week as Health Promotion Specialist Celena Watson relayed the results of this year’s State of Surry County’s Health Report.
Watson said the assessment, compiled from 1,300 surveys received from county residents, identified four primary areas of concern including obesity, substance abuse “including tobacco,” healthy aging and injury prevention.
“But when we looked at the statistics, the two real concerns are obesity — especially childhood obesity — and tobacco abuse,” she said.
According to Watson, one area of good news is that the county already is working to address these issues.
“We already have a lot of services and programs in place, both through the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center and other agencies within the county including the parks and recreation department, the cooperative extension and the three school systems, to address both tobacco and substance abuse issues and obesity,” she said.
Tackling The Obesity Issue
Watson said she is alarmed that the report showed that Surry County has the third highest childhood obesity rate among low-income children in the state.
According to the data collected, more than 20 percent of children in the county are considered obese, and Watson said she is doing everything in her power to target the issue. This compares to a state average of around 15 percent.
“What that says to me is that we need to focus on policies and programs that incorporate not only healthy eating strategies, but active living opportunities that are public and community-based,” Watson said.
Body Mass Index collection is under way at multiple elementary and middle schools throughout the county and the data will be used to help determine the best way to address the problem.
She also touted a USDA-based program that provides free fresh fruits and vegetables to students.
“Currently, we have nine county schools and two city schools that participate in this program,” Watson said. “The purpose of the program is to expand and increase the variety and amount of fruits and vegetables children experience and consume.”
Combined with nutrition education and reinforcement strategies, the program hopes to positively influence life-long eating habits.
Watson also touted the Health Rocks initiative, a program that has been implemented in five summer recreation programs in cooperation with the 4-H and cooperative extension.
“Program lessons include self-esteem, making good decisions, responsibility and substance abuse,” she said.
Another program Watson touts for helping curb the county’s obesity problem is the Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less program.
The program, which begins on Aug. 13, is funded through the N.C. Diabetes Prevention and Control Branch.
Surry County is one of two counties to receive funding for the program, which targets seven behaviors to create a healthier life.
“Last year, the first time we implemented this program, we had two sites for it, and each site reported a weight loss of over 200 pounds, for a combined 400-pound weight loss,” she told the commissioners last week.
For more information or to register for the Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less program, call the Health and Nutrition Center at 386-8400.
Kicking The Butts
“Tobacco is the number one cause of preventable death in Surry County,” Watson said Friday.
According to the data collected, just more than 30 percent of adults in the county smoke cigarettes. Nearly 60 percent of high school students, and more than 30 percent of middle school students have tried tobacco and just more than two-thirds of the county’s high school students are exposed to secondhand smoke.
In an effort to combat the problem, middle and high schools in the county’s three districts have implemented Tobacco Reality Unfiltered clubs to work on tobacco prevention.
These programs are aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of tobacco through peer education. They involve programs aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of tobacco use and how to stay smoke-free.
“We’re also working with Surry Community College to create a 100-percent tobacco-free campus,” she said, noting that all county government facilities are tobacco-free.
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.