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Community-wide effort leads to healthier lifestyles

Greenville — Folks in Washington County have lost a lot. Of weight, that is.

Washington County was the site of one of 10 innovative pilot programs in Mississippi that made combating obesity with more exercise and better eating habits a community-wide effort.

Approximately a thousand people in Washington County participated in the group exercise that ran from January 15 through March 7. The 341 people who stuck with the program from the beginning to end lost 673 pounds total, said Maci Flautt, extension associate with Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension agromedicine program.

“We plan to follow up contacting them in six months, a year and two years to see how they are doing,” Flautt said. “We are getting ready to start the six-month review.”

Laura Clark, administrative assistant for the Delta Health Alliance, participated in the program and found it very educational.

“I learned a lot about exercise and proper nutrition, and how they work together to help control your weight,” Clark said. “I lost some weight, and I have a good friend who lost quite a bit of weight. It is much better to have a support group.”

Greenville Mayor Heather Hudson said they are gearing up to do the program again in 2006.

“It definitely made an impact,” Hudson said. “Some people had never done a weight loss program before. People even until today are continuing with the information they got from the program about good eating habits and exercising on a regular basis.”

Hudson said obesity is a problem in the entire state of Mississippi that requires long-term solutions.

“You aren’t going to resolve that overnight,” Hudson said. “It is going to take impacting a number of different generations before we see it resolved. Projects like Shape Up Washington County are getting it started. People need to understand their lifestyle needs to be changed. It isn’t something you do just for a short period. You experience ups and downs and challenges any time you have a program like that. It is important getting information out about the seriousness of the obesity problem and what we can do about it.”

Hudson said that reducing obesity is important to Mississippi businesses because a healthier workforce reduces work absentee rates and the cost of health insurance. Healthier people produce more.

Beverly Howell, state program leader for the Mississippi Extension Service Family and Consumer Sciences, said Mississippi continues to lead the nation in the number of obese adults.

“In addition, the obesity and overweight rate among the youth of our state is very high,” she said. “It’s important that communities, groups, organizations and agencies come together to address this important issue that threatens the well-being of our citizens.”

Good eating and exercise habits that take root in childhood can put people on a path to a long, healthy life. With that in mind, the Extension Service has teamed with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation, the Mississippi Rural Health Corps, Mississippi Office of the Attorney General, the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, and Mississippi 4-H for an traveling exhibit called “Body Walk” that will be brought to students throughout the state from kindergarten through fifth grade.

“The Body Walk experience is much more than a fun morning in the school gymnasium,” Howell said. “The children will be given a take-home activity book to read with their families to reinforce the day’s learning along with a parent information sheet. Schools will be provided with resource kits to foster classroom activities related to the exhibit long after it has been packed up and started down the road to another school.”

Body Walk will go on the road in the next couple of month visiting schools camps, 4-H programs, festivals and fairs. It is expected to reach about 30,000 children across the state annually.

The Extension Service is also working with partners to provide the Delta HOPE (Healthy Options for People Through Extension) Tri-State Initiative for elementary schools in the Delta regions of Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. HOPE will support the implementation and evaluation of a classroom-based intervention that encourages short bouts of physical activity integrated with academic lessons (www.take10.net), and presents a cast of characters, the OrganWise Guys (OWG) (www.organwiseguys.com), that help young children understand physiology and healthy behaviors through read aloud books, games, dolls and informational videos.

Funding for this four-year project, 2003 to 2007, is provided to the Mississippi Food Network/MASS by the Kellogg Foundation with additional evaluation funding provided by the USDA Delta Nutrition Intervention Research Initiative. The project is expected to reach approximately 30,000 students and their teachers in the Mississippi Delta Region.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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