Building a healthier county

Community members, service providers and business leaders from all over Hamilton County met Tuesday night to discuss health issues affecting the citizens of the county as part of a discussion sponsored by the Healthy Hamilton County Coalition.

The goal of the coalition and the meeting was to identify an overarching health issue that the community could address. The facilitators said that Hamilton County has the dubious honor of ranking in the lower third of Iowa’s counties when it comes to overall health. The county’s ranking dropped from 30th place in 2011 to 64th in 2013.

Shelby Kroona, Hamilton County Public Health administrator, said three health concerns were noted in the drop in rankings – obesity on the rise, an increase in binge drinking and increase in the sexually transmitted diseases.

“We ranked very high in all three of those areas,” she said. Rankings for 2014 will be released in March.

She said that the obesity rate jumped to 30 percent for the county and the rate of children in poverty climbed from 11 percent to 16 percent

“But there are programs that are starting to address the childhood poverty issues including the backpack program and community garden,” she said.

Kroona worked in Woodbury County, which now ranks as Iowa’s healthiest, where she helped organize and run a Healthy Siouxland Coalition.

“The fact is Hamilton County is heavier, less active, more likely to smoke and more likely to drink than a majority of other counties in Iowa,” Kroona said.

Participants Tuesday were partnered with others at the meeting to brainstorm the top health concerns. Obesity, inactivity, poor lifestyle choices and the need to build a sense of belonging or community were among the concerns cited. The issues were then combined and refined into common categories to further narrow the answers. Socio-economic health, healthy lifestyle choices, mental and emotional health, educational outreach and awareness, and building a safe, healthy and connected community were the final health categories established.

Participants said that while identifying health issues was important, equally crucial was establishing a plan of action to accomplish the goals.

Further meetings are planned to continue health discussions, set goals and action plans, organizers said.