Pioneering Healthier Communities – Marion (PHC Marion) recently launched a public awareness campaign regarding childhood obesity and how the Marion community can work together to ensure Marion’s youth grow up to be healthy adults. The focus of this campaign is acknowledging that one in three Marion County fifth graders is obese as measured by body mass index (Marion Public Health 2013 body mass index study). The intent of the campaign is to draw people to the organization’s website phcmarion.org for community based solutions. The campaign will include billboards, print material and an online presence. “The billboards went up and definitely struck a nerve”, states Brad Smith, member of the PHC Marion Education and Awareness Action Team. “We certainly didn’t set out to offend people. Obesity is a really bad health problem – worse than people realize. So we wanted to grab attention in an effort to get these startling statistics to sink in, and point people toward helpful solutions on our new website. We hope the passion people have expressed regarding the boards will move them to action in improving our children’s health.”
Additional data on Marion County continues to show a need for community based changes to improve health. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and University of Wisconsin County Health Rankings, Marion County ranks 82 out of 88 Ohio Counties in good health behaviors. This includes 34% of Marion County adults as obese, and 34% being physically inactive. (full ranking information available countyhealthrankings.org). Marion Public Health’s 2013 data based on body mass index further indicates 40% of kindergartners, third, fifth and ninth graders combined were overweight or obese. Immediate health effects of a young person being obese include higher chance of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and pre-diabetes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, 2015).
In February, 2011 twelve community leaders spent three days in Washington D.C. where they learned strategies to help Marion have healthier children and adults. This was the beginning of PHC Marion, a community coalition working to promote policy, systems and environmental changes that will allow children to increase their physical activity and improve their eating habits, leading to reduced rates of childhood obesity in Marion. PHC Marion’s work is in concert with a state-wide network of communities, advocates, organizations and individuals creating fair opportunities for children to access healthy food and physical activity. PHC Marion was launched with funding from the RWJF’s commitment to expand the community-based solution model which applies proven policy change strategies that support health and well-being.
Throughout the last four years, PHC Marion, along with its sister coalition Marion County Creating Healthy Communities (CHC), has worked through Community Action Plans, to improve daily opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating. Opportunities for children and adults to engage in daily physical activity have expanded through the establishment of a marked bike route within the city. This ten-mile circular route takes riders through most Marion neighborhoods. In addition to the circular route, there are off-shoots to downtown, the Tall Grass Trail and coming soon a route to the Marion Campus. This will connect neighborhoods to the new University Drive extension and its multi-use bike / walk trail. For the past three years, PHC Marion has conducted bike safety days at Marion City Schools giving out approximately 600 bike helmets to elementary school students. PHC Marion also worked with Downtown Marion to establish Shoe the Loop walking routes centered in downtown.
PHC Marion and CHC have improved access to healthy food through community gardens. In 2013, they launched their first community garden project at Christ Missionary Baptist Church. The site began with ten raised beds. In 2015, there are nearly 100 raised beds throughout Marion County giving many families a new opportunity for healthy food. Many of these were started by PHC Marion partners, with PHC Marion providing technical support. In 2014, PHC Marion worked with the Marion County Farm Bureau and planted an acre of sweet corn at the YMCA. The corn was harvested by area food pantries and individual community members. The same acre is growing this summer for another year of free distribution to food pantries and families. PHC Marion is working with JMJ Discount Foods and More to establish Healthy in a Hurry sections, where neighborhood residents can find affordable healthy food.
The work of PHC Marion is done through five action teams, with a variety of community organizations and individuals serving on each team. In addition to the initiatives described above, action teams work with area schools, governments and others to adopt policy, system and environmental changes that increase people’s access to physical activity and healthy eating. The coalition’s Leadership Team consists of Sharon Baldinger, Marion Industrial Center; Gary Barber, Marion City Schools; Dr. Rosemary Chaudry; Erin Creeden, Marion Public Health; Cliff Edwards, Center Street Community Health Center; Nancy Hafer, Elgin Schools; Dr. Len Janchar, OhioHealth Marion Area Physicians; Jim Lavelle, Ohio Heartland Community Action; Theresa Lubke, Marion Family YMCA; Chloe Metcalf, Elgin Schools; Dr. Greg Rose, Ohio State University at Marion; Mike Thomas, Marion City Council; Dr. Julie Tome, OhioHealth Marion General Hospital; and Tom Quade, Marion Public Health.
Funding for the coalition was provided by the RWJF and from the Marion Community Foundation for specific projects. The MCF has provided funding for Healthy in a Hurry corner store, community gardens, signage for bike and walking routes, physical activity programs at Summer Feeding Sites, and bike safety days. These activities have impacted hundreds of Marion residents providing increased physical activity and opportunities for healthy eating.