Preventing Obesity in Holmes County
Written by: Abbigail Benton, Holmes County General Health District Health Educator
More than half (57%) of residents in Holmes County suffer from being either overweight or obese, according to Holmes County General Health District’s (HCGHD) 2020 Community Health Assessment (CHA). The 2017 CHA results shows that 1 in 6 children living in Holmes County are obese. Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States (Goldman, 2020). “Usually, obesity results from a combination of inherited factors, combined with the environment and personal diet and exercise choices” (Mayo Clinic, 2020). The HCGHD in conjunction with the Partners for a Healthier Holmes County is committed to reducing chronic disease outcomes within our community, including obesity.
Health issues resulting from obesity include pain, lack of sleep, lower energy levels, heart disease, diabetes, stoke, high blood pressure, and some cancers. Being obese may prevent people from doing things that they used to enjoy, causing a lower quality of life which results in poor mental health outcomes. In a survey conducted by HCGHD in February 2022, 72% of respondents indicated that being overweight or obese limits their day-to-day activities and causes them to tire more easily. The most frequently cited medical conditions that survey respondents were diagnosed with as a result of being overweight or obese included high blood pressure and diabetes. Many respondents also shared that being overweight or obese causes them social anxiety and lack of self-confidence.
A challenge that Holmes County residents face is a limited number of convenience stores and grocery stores that offer fresh, nutritious foods. Easy access convenience stores offer unhealthy processed foods that lack nutritional value and contain high amounts of calories. Additionally, our society promotes sugary drinks and fast food rather than healthy foods offering a wide variety of unhealthy food options, such as processed foods and drinks that are filled with preservatives, sugar, salt, and high amounts of calories. One survey respondent stated that “there aren’t quick restaurants that specialize in healthier options, most sides are fries, mashed potatoes, noodles and such, not green veggies”. Another survey respondent stated that at family gatherings their meals are “buffet style with heavy Amish style foods”, indicating that family dynamics may play a role in establishing healthy eating habits. It is important to note that although processed foods may be more accessible, we as a society need to make smart choices and choose healthier food options to help maintain a healthy diet and decrease the risk of obesity. Another issue that Holmes County faces is that there is no public transportation available, which can make it more difficult for people to get to grocery stores and gyms. A survey respondent commented that “it is 20 minutes to the nearest gym and grocery store”. These barriers can become even more difficult to manage when you take into consideration working, being a parent, or pregnancy.
The HCGHD offers assistance to residents with small children through their WIC program. The WIC program is a supplemental nutrition education program for pregnant women, women who recently had a baby, breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to 5 years old. WIC offers nutrition education, breastfeeding information and support, peer support during pregnancy, infant feeding classes and referrals to healthcare and other programs which may benefit the family. WIC focuses on getting children all the nutritional needs for growth to help get children ready for school. Some of the foods that WIC helps families purchase are supplemental foods like milk, cereal, eggs, beans/peanut butter, whole grains, juice, fruits and vegetables, and cheese and fish for breastfeeding women, baby food and infant formula. Our health professionals in WIC also provide recipes that help families make healthier food choices. The Health District’s Registered Dietician is also a service provider for the Early Intervention (EI) program in Holmes and surrounding counties. Nutrition services for the EI program focuses on developing and monitoring plans to address the nutritional needs of a child. The Health District conducts an assessment on a child to look at their nutritional history, dietary intake, feeding skills and problems, food habits and preferences. Based on these findings a plan will be developed to help improve nutritional habits.
Exercising is an important part of being healthy and managing obesity. It can also help with weight loss and has been proven to “reduce high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and several forms of cancer” according to the CDC (2021). The Mayo Clinic recommends adults exercise 150 to 300 minutes per week to prevent weight gain (2020). In partnership with the Village of Millersburg, the HCGHD has received grants through the HealthPath Foundation that allowed them to place new fitness equipment at Deer Run Park in Millersburg. This equipment is part of the “Getting Active, Staying Strong” initiative, which is focused on providing adults 65 and older the opportunity to engage in safe physical activity; however, the equipment can be utilized by anyone at no cost. There are additional free resources that are located throughout Holmes County that provide opportunities for people to become more active, such as Rails to Trails, basketball courts, baseball fields, and classes at the senior center offered in partnership with the HCGHD’s Falls Prevention Programing. The HCGHD is encouraging its community to use these resources to help decrease the rates of obesity in the community.
Obesity is a major public health issue and is a growing problem in today’s world. Fortunately, obesity is preventable and reversible. The HCGHD will continue to work with our local partners to identify policies and strategies that can be used to reduce the obesity rates in Holmes County.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 22). Adult Obesity Causes & Consequences. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/causes.html.
Goldman, D. (2020, January 27). Obesity, Second to Smoking as the Most Preventable Cause of US Deaths, Needs New Approaches. https://healthpolicy.usc.edu/article/obesity-second-to-smoking-as-the-most-preventable-cause-of-us-deaths-needs-new-approaches/.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, November 18). Obesity. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obesity/symptoms-causes/syc-20375742.
National League of Cities. (2021). Economic Costs of Obesity. https://www.healthycommunitieshealthyfuture.org/learn-the-facts/economic-costs-of-obesity/.
World Health Organization. (2021, June 9). Obesity and overweight. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight.