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Initiative seeking a healthy New Year

SOUTH POINT — “New Year, New You” is the theme for January, according to officials with the Lawrence County Health and Wellness Initiative.

The fledgling organization is encouraging individuals to renew and reinvent themselves in the New year by pursuing a positive health change.

“It’s not really a New Year’s resolution, but a commitment to improve your own personal health and wellness,” said Dr. David Lucas, initiative founder and coordinator. He said individuals could personalize their goals to be “whatever it would take to make those changes in you.” For example, he said, individuals could work toward weight loss if they are overweight or if they are diabetic, they might concentrate on managing their disease better.

Lucas said the Initiative plans to have a theme each month this year and will provide information on its web site (https://sites.google.com/site/lawcohealthandwellness) to help people make the health changes being emphasized. Monthly themes are the first public outreach by the initiative, which soon hopes to introduce programs into all county schools and have a presence at this year’s Lawrence County Junior Fair.

Enthusiasm continues to grow around the movement, swelling the ranks of motivated participants, according to Lucas.

A second meeting at South Point High School several weeks ago, turned out nearly 40 attendees including even more professionals from a range of industries in Lawrence County. Lucas said, “These people are very concerned about health in Lawrence County it is in their hearts and minds, and what they can do to change it. These folks are really into collaboration.”

Lucas said each of the previously established six “action circles” that focus on health behaviors, health education, access, quality health care, physical environment, and social factors were expanded and the group continues to move forward laying the foundation for a comprehensive grass roots effort.

“Each of these circles, on their own, will do something and together they will do a lot. They will make large changes. The way we have this networked, all these circles are active on their own right but they are also in synchronization. It is planned action,” said Lucas.

“What he is doing is exactly the type of action that we want to see,” said Angela Russell, community engagement lead for the county health rankings and roadmaps program at University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which helps to compile the nation-wide county level health rankings. The rankings, and Lawrence County’s position at the bottom of them in Ohio, is what spurred the creation of the Lawrence County Health and Wellness Initiative.

“We see the county health rankings as a call to action, we don’t want it to be data that just sits on a shelf,” said Russell. “We see county health rankings as an annual county health check up, just like you or I would go to the doctor on an annual basis, this is an opportunity for counties and county leaders to know where they are doing well and where they need to catch up,” Russell said.

The rankings are compiled annually by the Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health or MATCH project, collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The most recent figures that ranked Lawrence County 88th among Ohio Counties in health outcomes based on mortality and morbidity measures were released last March. New figures are due out in March of 2012, according to Russell.

Russell discouraged the organization from putting too much emphasis on being last.

“The ranking is just to get your attention,” she said, “If everyone in the state is progressing at the same rate, your ranking is going to stay the same. It is really moving the needle on those measurements underlying the data and not forgetting where your county is doing well,” Russell said.

For example, she noted, Lawrence County has several bright spots in the data. Sexually transmitted infection rates in Lawrence are lower than the state average and the high school graduation rate is higher than the state average.

Russell said she is encouraged by Lucas’s initial success mobilizing a movement in Lawrence County to improve health here.

“Our rankings show that it is not just the role of the public health department or the medical community or education departments,” Russell said. “It is everyone working together headed in the same direction in a coordinated fashion.”

The rankings are done on a countywide level, she said, because it is much easier to inspire action on the smaller, local level versus on the state or national level. “We know that local is where the change really happens. This is a national project but we’re doing it on a local level. County’s have more flexibility,” said explained.

Initiative members have stated they hope to raise Lawrence County from its last place ranking in the state as quickly as possible. They hope to move the county ranking up three ranking positions within the first three years, Lucas has said.

But Russell cautioned the group that change takes time and efforts should be focused on a few of the 28 health measures, used to compile the rankings.

“The rankings are a good benchmark in terms of seeing where you are in terms of room for improvement. You shouldn’t necessarily use the rankings as your trend. Pick you a couple of measures that you want to see change over time,” she suggested, “Pick out a few and focus on those.”

A third meeting of the Lawrence County Health and Wellness Initiative is pending, according to Lucas. He said the meeting will most likely be in Proctorville and will include some type of health presentation. Individuals interested in joining the initiative should contact Lucas via lawcohealthandwellness@gmail.com.