Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 25, 2013

Partnerships to tackle epidemic in Tri-State

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

RUSSELL — A new coalition formed to combat obesity, the region’s most prevalent health problem, officially launched Thursday.

Healthy Choices Kentucky, an independent consortium, hosted a Business After Hours and health symposium at the Bellefonte Pavilion to introduce the partnership between 26 entities.

Healthy Choices aims to begin reversing the obesity trend in northeast Kentucky through an action via its network of partnerships across a swath of stakeholders.

Dozens of businesses and medical and community leaders turned out for Thursday’s event, which included passionate addresses by Dr. Michelle Friday, a cardiologist, and Dr. A.K. Khanna, a pediatrician. Attendees enjoyed healthful hors d’oeuvres while visiting more than two dozen informational booths.

Kentucky currently ranks No. 1 in the nation for its rates of obese and overweight children and statistics show that more than 40 percent of Boyd and Greenup county adults are obese. Obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index of 30 or more. The Ashland-Huntington-Ironton area itself ranks among the top 10 areas of the nation where obesity is most prevalent with numbers topping 33 percent of the adult population.

“For so long, this has been happening, every day the obesity keeps marching on and we were in denial and we didn’t do anything. So I am so glad that day has dawned that we are going to take some action,” Khanna said during his address.

Khanna, who has worked in pediatrics for decades, said talking to parents about their children being obese often went nowhere.

“We needed a new approach. This has become more of a community problem,” he said.

“I think it is an unbelievable opportunity,” said Rod Hieneman, vice president of operations at Our Lady of Bellenfonte Hospital. “I think it is wonderful having all these people together. It’s really tough for us to make any type of great accomplishments with this just as one organization. It takes all these people to be able to do it.

“We have a lot of lifestyles in this community. It didn’t start yesterday, it started generations ago.”

 Hieneman also pointed out that taking action to combat obesity through the coalition is also an economic development undertaking.

“We’re so tired of hearing that companies won’t come to our area because of the condition of our health,” he said. “Being able to show that we are making concerted efforts to make it a healthier community, I think it is going to help  not just from the health side but in bringing new businesses into the area.”

Others at the event came to get help and encouragement for themselves as well as be a part of the community effort.

“I am someone who is on the journey trying to lose weight and get more healthy,” said Donna Mckenzie, an OLBH nurse who does physician and service liaison. “To be able to get the community involved in weight loss and healthy living is a huge task. Being overweight as a child and looking today where I am at, I think it’s great we are able to do that for children. I think if anyone has someone in their family who is overweight and has an unhealthy lifestyle they need to involve their families now for their children’s health now and for their future.”

Lisa Vice, an employee at Bellefonte Country Club, came out to learn more about how to help herself become healthier. In addition to learning about heart attack, stroke and cancer warning signs she noted she was impressed with Friday’s presentation.

“It was eye opening to see all the obesity in this area. It was kind of a shocker, it really makes you think twice about what you are going to put in your mouth,” she said.

Vice praised the new coalition, noting she wished it had formed years ago.

“I have three children that are now grown. I wish I had known more about healthy options and eating (then)... but it is good to have it now,” she said.

In addition to it’s website: www.HealthyChoicesKentucky.com, which offers information on nutrition, healthy lifestyles and community resources, the coalition has launched a competitive weight loss challenge to the area.

To meet its initial goal of halting the increase in the average Body Mass Index among residents of Boyd and Greenup County within its first three years, Healthy Choices will begin a Corporate Weight Loss Challenge in the coming weeks.

Businesses will compete against each other in a four month challenge by forming teams to lose weight. The winner will be determined by percentage of weight lost. Teams should include between three to seven employees and the cost of participation is $120 per team member.  

All entry fees will be donated to the charity of the winner’s choice and participation includes usage of Firm Fitness at Bellefonte Pavillion for each team member during the contest.

Free weight loss teleseminars by Ashland native Jim Fannin will also be available to participants.

Healthy Choices Kentucky partners include: Applebee’s, Ashland Alliance, Ashland Area YMCA, Ashland-Boyd County Health Department, Ashland Kroger, Boyd and Greenup County Extension Offices, Boyd and Greenup County Judge-Executives offices, Boyd County Public Library, Boyd County Medical Alliance, City of Ashland, FIVCO Area Development District, Greenup County Health Department, Greenup County Schools, Highlands Museum and Discovery Center, Jim Fannin “Coach of Champions,” Kentucky Heart Foundation/Health Kids Healthy Coalition, Lawrence County Health and Wellness Initiative, Morehead State University, Ohio University Southern, Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital and River Cities Harvest.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.