Friday, December 07, 2012

Rural S.C. county serves as incubator for program to fight obesity and diabetes in children

PE teacher Sharon Williams, right,
leads morning exercises before
classes start at Bells Elementary.
(The State photo by Tim Dominick)
With nearly two-thirds of South Carolina deemed overweight or worse, lucky Colleton County got picked to be a test case for doing better. That is, for improving its chances to beat the state's already overwhelming rates of diabetes, heart disease and stroke and for helping to lower the state's $1.2 billion dollar medical bill. Lucky, because in 2010, the county was awarded almost a half million "Eat Smart, Move More" grant by the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation to see if it could promote health eating and more physical exercise countywide. Joey Holleman of The State newspaper in Columbia reports "The results have been striking," though he notes that changing obesity numbers is "like turning an aircraft carrier; it's a slow process." Mostly, he's talking about attitude and perseverance.

How does the countywide program work on a daily basis? First, of course, you have to have buy-in. Hollerman explains that now when children arrive at Bells Elementary School in the county seat of Walterboro, "They go straight to the gym and walk laps before heading to classrooms. Worshipers at Power of Faith Delivery Ministry harvest collards as well as souls, and fried chicken is discouraged at church dinners. The local farmers market has a sparkling new home and a system set up to accept cards from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program," formerly known as food stamps. The "Let’s Go, Eat Smart" program and exercise programs are posted in schools, workplaces, grocery stores and churches.

So, if the numbers aren't clear yet, how to measure impact? Well, a recent church supper had only one fried-chicken basket, and the member who brought it ended up apologizing for her breach. On the day the reporter visited only the elementary school only one child in the first grade tried to slip through without selecting a fruit or vegetable. He was sent back and grabbed a plastic container of grapes from the Go (instead of the Slow or Whoa) food options, Hollerman reports. There are also anecdotes galore, including those of children no longer on insulin.

South Carolins's BlueCross BlueShield recently awarded another grant to "Eat Smart, Move More," to continue the work in Colleton County and expand it to other communities. (Read more)

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