With help from Georgia Southern University and the Coastal Health District, Effingham County is finding ways to jump its health hurdles.
At the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships town hall meeting Monday night, members from five workgroups outlined the most severe county health concerns and recommended actions to mitigate those conditions.
GSU’s Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health is spearheading MAPP as part of its service mission. Grants were issued to Effingham and Screven County health departments and GSU to assess health issues in these communities.
Russ Toal, an associate professor at the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health with 30 years experience in public health, is the Effingham coordinator. He is helping the Health Department and the residents take the most proactive strategy to address these issues.
“One of the things that we are committed to is trying to help the communities we serve be as healthy as they can be,” Toal said. “And the best way for us to do that is to help them do their own problem solving. We don’t want to be the ones telling them what to do; our job is to help problem solve.”
Through surveys MAPP identified and prioritized community health issues. Those issues are divided into workgroups concentrating on five health challenges: access to preventative services, including breast cancer screening; obesity, high blood pressure and special needs services; smoking, alcohol and drug abuse; teen suicide and injury prevention; and teen pregnancy.
The Coastal Health District, which covers public health in eight coastal Georgia counties, had representatives on hand to provide supporting data and explain their services that could benefit Effingham.
Alice Moore, co-chair of the obesity workgroup, reported that 29 percent of Effingham adults are obese, and thus susceptible to heart disease and diabetes, among other ailments. She said that 13.8 percent of Effingham adults and children had diabetes in 2007.
“If people don’t get control of their obesity, this is going to continue,” she said.
June Paulson, the school nutritionist, has managed to eliminate most of the fryers from the school lunchrooms so that most of the food is baked.
“We are the fastest growing fat state. If current trends continue, we will overtake both (Mississippi and Louisiana),” Toal said of Georgia’s rank among the most obese states.
The group suggested more awareness and taking the time to teach families how to preserve produce and how to cook with it.
Another illuminating presentation came from the smoking, drug and alcohol abuse workgroup, chaired by Bonnie Dixon, Elaine Spencer and Verna Phillips.
A 2007 survey of sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th graders indicated that the average first use of drugs in Effingham youth started as young as 11 years old with meth, steroids and inhalants. The data revealed that teens used illegal and prescription drugs, cigarettes and alcohol began between ages 11-14.
The group was concerned about underage access to tobacco, drugs and alcohol through businesses and parents.
In talking with local law enforcement, it seems like their big frustration was with legal issues, of course, and the fact that there are bonds for people who are accused and convicted of selling meth and other things,” Dixon said.
She said that with low bonds and less severe sentences, recidivism among dealers and users is high.
They suggested establishing a parent action group, who would inform law enforcement of any suspicion of teen drug or alcohol abuse and a establishing parent support and education groups as well as changing laws to more rigorous punishment for drug-related violations and increasing DUI checks.
The workgroups then presented findings and suggestions to attendees. Through August, they will be completing their action plants, and leaders from each workgroup will consolidate these into a community action plan and present it to the county commission and the county board of health.