Weatherford Democrat

July 26, 2012

Group aims to help health of county

Brian Smith and Judy Sheridan
CNHI

PARKER COUNTY — A group of residents are using a state grant to make Parker County healthier.

Members of the Healthy Parker County Coalition met earlier this month and are using a $236,000 grant from the Texas Department of State Health Services to try and increase awareness of ways to get and stay healthy. The organization is focusing on tobacco, healthy eating and chronic disease with its funds. Parker County was chosen because of its higher than normal obesity rates, lack of nutrition and smoking prevalence.

Community Relations Director Marsha Ingle with Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Azle said the tobacco free part will focus on exposure to second-hand smoke and helping public venues that aren’t smoke free become such.

“The population of men dying from lung cancer in Parker County is about 20 percent higher than state and national averages,” Ingle said.

Five cities in the county — Aledo, Hudson Oaks, Springtown, Weatherford and Willow Park — have partial ordinances in public places but none have a full outright no smoking in public places ordinance.

“When we get businesses on board that want to go smoke free, we need to help get the word out, patronize them and encourage others to do so,” Ingle said.

The coalition also hopes to get county officials to work on making healthy eating more available and affordable. Out of 254 Texas counties, Parker County ranks 201st in terms of accessibility of healthy eating. Coalition members will try and initiate farmers’ markers and let people know they are there.

Ingle referred to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article about homeless people working in community gardens and hopes to get a similar program going in Parker County.

“Parker County has the drive, resources, and people to do the same thing and make it successful,” Ingle said.

Convenience stores are also being targeted by the coalition, which will try to purchase in bulk and form co-ops and have the stores buy from the co-op to keep prices low.

The coalition also intends to improve chronic disease management for diseases such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, diabetes and more. Ingle said there are grants available to start up programs that educate people on the tools and techniques to manage chronic diseases. The programs are expensive but well worth it if the can help people get their health back she said.

Introducing or expanding a backpack program in the county is another coalition idea. Ingle said in Azle there are 20 community partners who give $180 per child per year for weekend food for needy families. The program has resulted in better test scores and fewer behavior problems.

In Weatherford, Northside Baptist Church is working with Seguin Elementary on such a project.

Ingle said a random telephone survey of about 400 people will begin next week to find out what the knowledge and attitudes about smoking, chronic disease and healthy eating are

“We need people from the county to tell us what the resources are, so we can fill in the gaps,” Ingle said. “There is nothing we want to do more than support you. We don’t want to recreate anything that’s been done.”

The coalition hopes to get Long Live Parker County, a “one-stop shop for health resources up and running in September.

No further meetings of the coalition are planned.