The Transylvania Times -

Report: County Should Be Healthier – Transylvania County, NC

 

January 30, 2020



Brevard and Transylvania County should be healthier than they are, according to Margaret Adamek, a food policy expert with the Blue Zones Project.

The Blues Zones Project is an initiative that seeks to makes healthy choices easier through permanent and semi-permanent changes to a community’s built environment, policy and social networks.

Last year, Brevard was chosen as the 50th community to be a Blue Zones Project.

Though Transylvania County ranks ninth in the state for health factors and behaviors, it ranks 22nd for health outcomes and 32nd for social and economic factors that influence health.

As a part of the Blue Zones Project, Adamek authored a report about the state of Brevard residents’ lifestyles and how the community institutions and businesses contribute (or don’t) to the health and wellbeing of its residents.

“Feeding people is a perennial human problem,” Adamek said during the Brevard Blue Zones food policy summit. “So, it’s just our version of a story at this point and time.”

Adamek and community leaders held the summit last week in the library’s Rogow Room. The summit began with Adamek presenting her findings and explaining food policy. After her presentation, Adamek conducted a workshop, where audience members discussed what they thought would be important factors in creating a food policy for Brevard residents.

Adamek focused her report on changes that city government and institutions can make to create a better food environment for its residents.

“Many of us think about what we eat as an individual choice,” she said. “There are kind of two aspects to that issue that I hear a lot about when I work with the Blue Zones Project. One is: people have individual responsibility in making healthy choices. It’s up to them to make healthy choices for themselves and for their family. The second thing I hear is people say, ‘Well, if there’s an abundance of easy-to-access, really affordable, unhealthy food, is that really a choice?’”

Though it is an unfamiliar concept in small communities, Adamek said having a food policy can help create a healthier environment for residents with things such as limiting a child’s access to sugary drinks, making sure convenience marts in rural parts of the county carry fresh produce, along with packaged convenience food, and providing more plant-based or vegetable-forward meals for school children.

How Healthy Are We?

In her report, Adamek found that though Transylvania County is healthier overall than other North Carolina counties (ranked ninth out of 100), residents do not eat the recommended minimum of fruits and vegetables per day, and habitually reach for sugary drinks and fried foods. As a result, Transylvanians suffer from a high rate of diet-related disease. Overall, Transylvania compares favorably to the rest of the state, but the county should be doing better than it is, she said.

The report found that heart disease is the top cause of death in Transylvania County, with 48 percent of residents having high blood pressure (compared to 31.5 percent statewide) and 11.8 percent of residents having diabetes (compared to 9.8 percent statewide.) Most of these conditions are diet related. Adamek said they could be prevented with better lifestyle choices.

Transylvania County’s population is also mostly overweight or obese, with 65 percent of the adult population having a BMI greater than 25. Roughly one in three children are also considered overweight or obese.

The question, Adamek said, is, “How can we create a comprehensive strategy for our community as a whole that makes sure that we, everyone in the community, have access to healthy affordable food?”

Major barriers to ensuring healthy outcomes are poverty and food insecurity, which put residents at a greater risk of poor nutrition, obesity and diet-related disease. A lack of full-service grocery stores and farmers’ markets in low-income areas, lack of access to transportation and an overabundance of fast food and junk food are all problems that low-income residents do not have viable solutions for, she said.

Adamek, however, did find that Brevard is doing a good job of addressing hunger through several nonprofits and faith-based food pantries, such as Bread of Life and Sharing House. During the workshop, Adamek invited audience members to brainstorm on ideas they would like to see implemented in the community. Offering more fresh produce at school lunches and creating a city government-affiliated food policy council were both praised as ideas by audience members.

Ultimately, Adamek will take her findings, as well as suggestions from the food policy summit, and create a final report with her food policy suggestions for the Blue Zone Project-Brevard committee to implement. Adamek believes making the suggested changes will be provide a significant economic and quality of life boon for Brevard residents.

“The cost of managing these preventable diet-related diseases is really, really significant,” she said. “It costs a lot to have food environments that are unhealthy. It costs a lot to be constructing communities where people live, where the unhealthy choice is the easy, affordable choice. That’s why it’s so important at the community level for us to really think strategically about food and health. It’s not about a nanny state telling you when and what to eat. It’s really about creating systems and policy changes that create a more efficient economy and more prosperous community, where limited resources are put to their best use, and everyone can achieve their fullest potential.”

For more information on the Blue Zones Project, go to http://www.bluezonesproject.com.

 
 

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