How do we get healthier?

When it comes to overall health, Stark County’s citizens are average, according to the “County Health Ranking” report released recently. That’s when the Stark County Healthy Lifestyles Initiative was born.

When it comes to overall health, Stark County’s citizens are average, according to the “County Health Ranking” report released recently. That’s when the Stark County Healthy Lifestyles Initiative was born.

By the year 2020, the initiative wants Stark County to be No. 1 in Ohio for overall health. The report measures the health of a county not only by diet and exercise, but also education, poverty, birth rates, air pollution and fatal crashes.

To make improvements in the overall health of the county, the Aultman Health Foundation and Mercy Medical Center have joined with the Stark County Park District, the YMCAs, and Canton City Schools to form the Healthy Lifestyles Initiative, whose goals are to promote nutrition, increase physical activity, and reduce substance abuse in our community.

The two hospitals will focus on reducing substance abuse and tobacco use.

“The collaborative piece is the beautiful part of this,” said Elaine Campbell, Mercy’s grants and development coordinator, who has been part of another group facilitated at Walsh University that brainstorms funding ideas for economic development.

“The Healthy Initiatives grew from this.”

The meetings, she said, have been “dynamic,” bringing together all walks of life to identify the problems we are experiencing here in Stark County due to job losses, and finding ways to replace all the benefits that have been lost.

One thing for sure that has been hurt by job loss, Campbell said, is the availability of smoking cessation programs.

Sharla Elton, grants coordinator for Aultman, agrees.

She said Stark County has a surprising 23 percent tobacco use rate — compared to 15 percent for the nation’s best performers.

Along with that is a 17 percent excessive drinking rate, compared to 8 percent for the nation’s best.

The group will focus on measurable goals to attain over the next 10 years to move up in the county rankings.

“We’re excited to be involved,” Elton said of Mercy’s co-chairmanship with the Stark County Health Department.

Through local summits, she said, they are able to link different groups together to combine and share resources, especially when it comes to education.

“The needs of our community is a recurring theme,” she said, adding that nicotine replacement therapies are one such need that they are seeking as a county.

Tracy Figurella, director of the Aultman Foundation, adds that Aultman’s internal 20/20 Committee is focused on helping companies go smoke-free by providing experts and quit kits as resources.

ON THE COMPREHENSIVE COUNTY-BY-COUNTY REPORT

The 2011 “County Health Rankings,” a comprehensive report on the overall health of nearly every county in the United States, was completed by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

They collected and analyzed state and national data between 2001 and 2009 to compile their results. Each county received an overall rank in two categories: Health factors and health outcomes.

Here’s how Stark County ranked (out of 88 counties in Ohio):
• 37th in health factors: Adult obesity, fatal crashes, poverty and health care access. High graduation rates, teen birth rates, air pollution and homicide rates also are included.
• 44th in health outcomes: Mortality, poor mental and physical health and low birth weight.