Ohio health director visits Clermont

April 1st, 2010    Author: Brett A. Roller    Filed Under: Community

The Clermont County General Health District was visited by Ohio Department of Health Director Alvin D. Jackson, M.D., who had several compliments for the district.

Jackson has been making an effort to visit all of the state’s 129 health districts since he took office in 2007. He said his goal is to improve communications between the state and local departments and to seek out the “best practices” used throughout the state in order share those practices with other health districts in the state.

“I’m actually looking as I travel around for excellent models to share with others,” Jackson said.

Health Commissioner Marty Lambert and her team gave the director an overview of some of the many activities the district is involved in and Jackson commented on what his department sees as the most important health issues in the state today.

Jackson said one of the biggest problems in the state and in the country is obesity. He said obesity can lead to many other health problems in the future. Jackson also said the infant mortality rate in Ohio is a serious issue, as well as the abuse of prescription pain medications and narcotics.

"We have a lot of huge challenges in Ohio right now," Jackson said. "One of the largest challenges is adolescent obesity. If we don't do something, this generation of young people will not live as long as their parents. We'll see a lot of type II diabetes, after diabetes comes heart disease, kidney problems, blindness, and amputation."

The county received funding through the Governor's obesity prevention program to collect local data on adult and childhood obesity.

"We did a youth assessment of all fourth graders who wanted to participate in all of our public schools and even some of our private schools," Assistant Health Commissioner Julianne Nesbit said. "I think for me some of the biggest surprises to come out of the assessment were the rates of obesity in children. We knew it would be high, but there was some correlation, and we're not sure why, in our in school lunch programs."

Nesbit said students with high Body Mass Indexes were more likely to eat school lunches instead of packing their lunch.

"That's a really interesting, powerful piece of information as we are looking more at what children are being served in school and their activity levels in school," Jackson said.

Jackson said the results were surprising and the reasons behind the higher BMI's may not be immediately clear.

"We're not trying to suggest that there's something wrong with school lunches but it does bring up a very interesting point," Lambert said. "We're going to look at that further."

Clermont County is already active in curbing obesity through their "Be Active, Eat Smart" program. The program provides a "places and spaces" brochure that lists low cost or no cost activities that can keep Clermont residents active. It also includes nutrition facts and opportunities for healthy eating.

"We have a very good coalition that comes together for (fighting obesity)," Nesbit said.

She said many organizations both private and public have recognized the problem and become active in fighting it.

"I love the coalition piece because I actually believe that the solution to the community problems rest in the community. They're not going to be in Columbus, they're not going to be in Washington, they're going to be right here," Jackson said. "I'm really, really happy to see (your obesity fighting programs.) This is really the key. Obesity is a national security issue because as these children get more obese then the chronic diseases follow."

Jackson said chronic disease is one of the biggest strains on the health care system and is a big problem for health departments at all levels of government.

"Chronic disease is a strong driver to the budget so by focusing on obesity through nutrition choices and increasing activity level, this can be primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention in terms of actually saving us a lot of dollars," Jackson said.

One of the things Jackson said he enjoys most about his trips to local health districts is hearing stories of individual people who have directly benefited from local health district programs.

Deena Elliott, Director of Nursing, shared a story of a woman who was able to participate in the district's blindness prevention program.

Elliott said the program serves residents who are age 19 and older and meet income requirements. It provides residents with vision care such as free eye exams, free glasses, and other services.

She said a woman in her late 40s wrote a letter to the district to thank them for their help.

"As far as she was concerned we had literally prevented blindness," Elliott said.

The woman had lost her job because of tremendous vision problems and was having a hard time going about her daily tasks. Elliott said she was diagnosed with macular degeneration.

"She was able to get some badly needed eye drops and eye glasses and is now back to work," Elliott said. "She was just so, so grateful for this opportunity and this care because she had no other means of obtaining it."

Jackson was very impressed with the letter.

"These are the kind of stories we've really got to collect," Jackson said, "because hidden inside of that is secondary and tertiary prevention."

He said, because the health district offered her a service, the woman can now work and be a productive member of society.

"I want to thank you because I know public health does not get thanked enough," Jackson said. "I know how hard you work and you do a great job."
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