Local program aims to improve county’s health rankings
by James Phillips
Apr 23, 2012 | 1303 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A recently started initiative is designed to improve overall health within Walker County.

Shape Up Walker County 2012, a recently developed project of WATCH 2020, aims to improve the county’s health statistics which were rated last in the state in a recent study.

“Walker County is dead last in health stats in Alabama,” said Dr. Karen Landers, a spokesperson for the Department of Health. “We didn’t get there overnight, and we won’t get it fixed overnight.”

Landers, speaking to the Kiwanis Club of Jasper last week, said the Shape Up program is designed to build upon the assets of the community to improve health throughout Walker County. She said a recent grant has allowed for one person to spend one day per week to develop the project.

“We have identified five areas where we will focus initially,” Landers said.

The program has already held model shopping tours, which provided a nutritionist to go through a grocery store with area residents to help show how to better spend their food dollars.

The second area of focus for the program is community gardens.

“We want to look at ways to provide fresh products,” Landers said.

Shape Up Walker County officials hope to team with current community gardens on Airport Road in Jasper and at Capstone Rural Health Center in Parrish. Landers said faith-based groups are also being contacted to possibly construct new community gardens.

The introduction of healthy shopping aisles at grocery stores is the third focus area for the program. Landers said one area store has already agreed to establish one or two healthy aisles, which will be stocked with fresh fruits, healthy drinks and possibly exercise materials.

“It’s been documented that customers will choose healthy items if they are presented with those alternatives,” Landers said.

Shape Up’s fourth area of focus is concentrated on sporting events. Landers said concession stands are typically stocked with foods which are high in fat and high in sugar. She said two area high schools have already been contacted about offering healthier options in their concession stands.

“We are trying to provide seed money to concession stands so they can stock healthy items,” Landers said.

The final area of focus for the Shape Up initiative is a behavior modification program, Landers said.

“We are in a food desert in Walker County,” she said. “Small changes can make a big difference. People don’t have a lot of options for healthy foods, and poor health is rapidly overtaking us here. We need to change the culture in our state and in Walker County. There are so many good things here in our county, and we want to help people to be healthy and be able to work and contribute to our society.”