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Editorial: Focusing on children key to county’s healthy lifestyle goals

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Bartholomew County is 20 years into its Healthy Communities Initiative, and it’s clear that progress has been made. Public-private partnerships have spread the word and increased awareness of ways for people to lead healthier lifestyles.

For example, one effort has been to change food environments. Workplaces have been encouraged to replace doughnuts and sodas at meetings with healthier options such as fruits and water. Schools offer fruit and vegetable tastings to show students that salads can be enjoyable to eat.

However, knowing what you can do and committing to changing personal health habits that have been ingrained for decades are two different things. The release of the latest County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report underscores that challenge.

Overall, Bartholomew County fares better than about two-thirds of the state’s 92 counties for health behaviors (ranked 31st) and health outcomes (ranked 34th). However, improvement has been slow and incremental because changing behaviors in adults is difficult.

The report found that about 25 percent of adults participated in no leisure-time physical activity despite adequate access to locations for physical activity. Columbus has 20 miles of People Trails, for example, and 1,000 acres of park land.

A 2013 health needs assessment conducted by Professional Research Consultants showed that obesity in Bartholomew County is declining (31 percent to 27 percent from 2009 to 2012), which is in contrast to the health rankings report that said obesity is on the rise (29 to 32 percent from 2010 to 2014).

Regardless, more than a quarter of the county’s population is obese, which is too high.

Local health advocates see signs that the county’s overall scores will improve. Smoking is on the decline with adults; the county is ranked 10th for clinical care — which considers uninsured patients and access to primary care physicians; and the county ranks 18th for socioeconomic factors. Those include unemployment, graduation and poverty rates, and contribute to a person’s health.

Because changing adults’ behaviors tends to be slow, local health advocates see another way to move the county in a healthier direction.

By focusing on the next generation of adults while they are young and have not yet developed unhealthy lifestyle habits, those efforts are more likely to have a long-term positive impact.

The Mill Race Marathon’s strategy to involve more children in the second marathon is right on the money.

Last year, more than 1,000 children participated in the Kids Fun Run during Mill Race Marathon activities in late September. The event showed children that running can be fun, and proceeds from marathon events were in part directed to Healthy Communities.

Riding a bicycle is another way that children are being encouraged to be active. May 7 was Bike to School Day, which was part of Bike Month. Healthy Communities is attempting to raise funds for a bike camp that would teach children with physical and cognitive disabilities how to ride a bicycle.

Our children are the best hope to make Bartholomew County one of the healthiest counties in the state.

Placing a greater emphasis on teaching them ways to live a healthy lifestyle while they are still young has the best potential for generational benefits for the county and its residents.

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