Converting challenges to healthy community changes

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, obesity rates in the U.S. have tripled in the past 30 years, and research shows that more than 20 percent of annual U.S. medical spending is for obesity-related illness. In 2016, the CDC recruited local partners in Indiana through Purdue Extension to address these challenges.

Tim Gavin, professor and head of health and kinesiology at Purdue, received a $1.15 million grant and worked through Purdue Extension in Jackson and Lawrence Counties. The Purdue team helped build community health coalitions so that local participants could identify, implement and sustain efforts to address health issues in their communities.

These county coalitions chose interventions that worked to increase knowledge and availability of healthy foods, from offering healthy concession snacks to establishing community gardens. In 2018, fitness got a boost in both communities. Live Well Lawrence County – Mitchell Chapter created the Bluejacket Trail, connecting 2.6 miles of sidewalks and trails, installed new benches and bike racks, and established Friendship Park — a popular place to meet friends in the evening.

“Purdue Extension walked us through the process and helped us out tremendously with getting all the exercise equipment and signage for our Bluejacket Trail,” says John D. England, mayor of Mitchell in Lawrence County.

In Jackson County, paint and signage marked new bike lanes and trails, and a fitness court opened in Seymour. The Boys & Girls Club established an indoor playground for kids aged 6 months to 5 years old in the morning. The space can also be used by older youths for a ninja warrior course when it’s not in use for younger children.

“If it weren’t for the coalition, Healthy Jackson County, and the CDC grant through Purdue Extension, I’m not sure we would have made these changes as quickly,” says Ryon Wheeler, executive director of the Seymour Boys & Girls Club in Jackson County.

participants have attended healthy goals sessions in Lawrence County.

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