Eat Smart, Move More holds forum

What are the two leading health care concerns in Chester County? According to 481 Chester County residents who participated in a survey conducted by the Healthy S.C. Initiative, the answers are first, obesity, and second, drug use.

People of Chester who voluntarily took the survey included more women than men, mostly people with a high school diploma, GED or those with technical education. Most of these people agreed with three major points – one, exercise is important to do, yet few do it; two, eating fruits and veggies is necessary, yet few do it; and three, work place smoking is a no-no.

The community forum, open to anyone interested, was hosted by co-chairmen of Eat Smart Move More, Robin Currence of Clemson Extension and Melody Reid of The Hazel Pittman Center and was facilitated by Susan Collier and Lauren Neely of the Healthy S.C. Initiative.

Some attendees were Hospice workers, church wellness team members, Battered But Not Broken members, hospital employees and a physical therapist from Fort Lawn. The forum was held at 11 a.m. Thursday, June 12, in room 209 of Chester’s impressive York Tech building. These meetings occur the first Wednesday of each month at 10 a.m. Although anyone interested in working to create a healthier community is invited, mostly industry people typically attend.

The first discussion topic at the forum was the survey results. Within the survey results, responders stated that obesity (54 percent) and drug use (46 percent) are Chester’s top health concerns. Overall, this group rated the community’s health poor/fair. Forty-six percent stated they believe people of Chester are not active due to “personal choice” and 44 percent believe it is because people are too tired after work. Within this group, 40 percent reported having high blood pressure. The two reasons as to why surveyors believe people in our community do not eat healthy are that they (77 percent) eat fast food regularly and (67 percent) do not cook at home.

Next, Jared Cates of Connect Our Future presented a PowerPoint with the goals of explaining the Connect Our Future Systems Project and sharing awareness of the Catawba Farm and Food Coalition. Food systems are ways to move food from the farm to the plate, and Connect joins community food systems with regional planning efforts. Many people must be involved in food systems for them to work at maximum potential – people in tourism, farming, education and politics.

The most thought-provoking point made by Cates is that residents in our two-state region spend $5.8 billion a year on food and $763 million of that amount is spent on fresh fruits and veggies; yet farms in the region produced only $100 million of the latter. That is a gap of $663 million! If we can bridge this gap, we will not only be eating more healthily and fueling our bodies with fresher, more nutrient-rich foods, but also boosting our community economy with food-related jobs and income for our own farmers rather than for large companies who typically ship produce from far away places.

Farmers in our area earn about $5,000 a year less than the average person. Connect Our Future intends to bring food system issues to the public’s attention, support local farmers and join community members with our local food system. Cates explained that food councils are used to determine the status of food in a community and how to improve food-related community issues. The Catawba Farm and Food Coalition, which consists of Chester, Lancaster, Union, York and the Catawba Reservation, is the first food council in S.C. Business partners and community volunteers are needed and being sought. One service this council is currently working on is the Catawba Fresh Market, which will be an online service for ordering local produce.

Third, the forum members discussed some alarming Chester County statistics, as well as some of our community strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in dealing with them. Thirty-two percent of us are overweight/obese, 34 percent of us are inactive, 26 percent of us are smokers and there is a rate of 49 asthma hospitalizations in children ages zero to four per 10,000 population. The leading causes of death in our county are cancer, heart disease, chronic lower respiratory disease and diabetes. All of these can be linked to obesity and smoking. Thus, the survey report conclusion is that obesity and drug use are the leading health concerns in Chester.

Now, what did forum members identify as strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities we have in Chester in dealing with them? Strengths listed are the YMCA, Hazel Pittman Center, community garden and food pantry, Good Samaritan’s Clinic, York Tech, TruVista’s information channel, adult education, many churches, our hospital, free health screenings, Clemson Extension classes such as cooking, two state parks and several neighborhood parks, the Parks and Recreation Department, the transportation system and the downtown farmer’s market.

Weaknesses cited are restaurants still permitting smoking, not enough sidewalks, literacy levels, limited healthy restaurants, lack of education on the food system, marketing of services available and lack of disease support.

Opportunities named are engaging faith-based organizations, educating people about what is around us through the media, the Chamber of Commerce, city/county representatives, support groups and collaboration of people and organizations to create one large event, such as a health fair, rather than many small groups repeating the same type of event.

Threats toward the goal discussed are a disconnect between services and community members, jobs not being available, people being resistant to change, high school drop-out rate, political games and disconnect between municipalities.

The conclusion reached was, if access to healthy food and physical activity is increased, chronic diseased (many caused by obesity and smoking) will decrease.

For more information and health help, visit the Eat Smart Move More website, call 1-800-784-8669.