County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has launched a comprehensive, innovative campaign promoting wellness called Live Well Allegheny which will be led by the Board of Health and Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker.
“This is a new day and a new Allegheny County. Our residents are seeking an active, healthy lifestyle and are taking proactive steps to improve their health,” said County Executive Fitzgerald. “Not only are they focused on physical health, but also on their general well-being. We want to do everything that we can to encourage that interest. Under the leadership of Dr. Hacker and the Board of Health, the Live Well Allegheny campaign will stimulate our community to make better decisions for the health and well-being of all of our residents.”
The United Health Foundation recently released its state health ratings, and Pennsylvania fell to 29th in the nation, from a ranking of 26th last year in overall health. Perhaps more worrisome is an increase in the rate of obesity in the Commonwealth which rose from 28.6% to 29%, exceeding the national average. That equates to nearly three million adults in the state who are obese. In Allegheny County, according to the 2009-2010 Allegheny County Health Survey (ACHS), 62% of adults were overweight or obese. Additionally, significantly more men (68%) than women (57%) were identified as overweight or obese.
At the same time, while the level of inactivity among adults both locally and statewide decreased from 26.2% to 23.4%, there are still 2.3 million Pennsylvania adults who remain physically inactive. In Allegheny County, according to the 2009-2010 ACHS, 11% of adults said they did not participate in either moderate or vigorous physical activity in a usual week.
“As the Health Department Director, my focus and interest is obviously going to be on our residents’ physical health, so this campaign will speak directly to the need for more physical activity, eating right and being proactive in managing your health,” said Dr. Hacker. “But, wellness encapsulates so much more than just physical health. It also includes mental wellness, personal and community safety, improving well-being and quality of life, education, health literacy and so much more. Through a coordinated, local effort, we can have a real impact on the health and well-being of our residents, which also ensures that we have a healthier county.”
Dr. Hacker and the Board of Health have already identified a group of stakeholders who will assist in identifying areas of strengths and challenges. They will work with the campaign to strategically plan activities and events related to obesity prevention and physical activity promotion. The initial goals of the campaign are broad to respond to trends, data and statistics brought to bear by the Health Department and its stakeholders, but its initial focus will be on implementing an anti-obesity campaign, providing education and developing partnerships. Specifically, the Live Well Allegheny campaign intends to track childhood obesity and visit school districts to support evidence-based practices. A referral resource which can point individuals, including medical providers, to programs and resources by zip code is in development and is expected to be ready this summer. The campaign has also set a goal of partnering on or hosting physical activity events at least six times a year.
Both Fitzgerald and Hacker pointed out that there are already a large number of programs, outreach events and organizations which share similar goals to improve the health of county residents. Recognizing that behavior change requires a cultural change, the Live Well Allegheny campaign will be part of that change by promoting and highlighting events and programs of partners in the effort. While the Health Department has already begun outreach to a number of those organizations in the county, those interested in joining the campaign are encouraged to contact the Health Department by phone at 412-687-ACHD (2243), e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting the campaign’s website at LiveWellAllegheny.com, which will launch later this week.
“Working together, we can promote a healthy lifestyle in a more comprehensive way. We want to encourage physical activity – walks through our parks, taking the stairs, joining a weight-loss group, or participating in a run or walk – and support healthy dietary choices. Additionally, we want to broaden the conversation,” said Joylette Portlock, Ph.D., a member of the Board of Health. “For example, sustainable practices and environmental health are also part of the conversation about creating opportunities for exercise and healthy food access. There are many ways to improve the overall health of our communities.”
Future plans for the campaign include activities in all 130 municipalities, the 90 neighborhoods in the City of Pittsburgh and the 43 school districts that call Allegheny County home. While the activity could be some type of physical activity, the campaign also envisions offering screenings, alternative fitness activities, healthy cooking demonstrations, tips on stress management and more which are also focused on residents of all ages. The County Executive will also be asking the departments under his direction to think about how their efforts at outreach, promotion and education can tie into Live Well Allegheny and further promote a healthy community.
Live Well Allegheny is a long-term strategy, but County Executive Fitzgerald, Dr. Hacker and the Board of Health expect to provide annual reports to the public about progress, including measures of success as the program moves forward.