Lee County’s Exercise Levels Up; Nutritional Habits Worse

How do we improve Lee County to make it a desirable destination in which people want to live, work, play — a place in which we can thrive and enjoy a high quality of life? The best place to start is an understanding of the overall health of our community and what we can do to make it better.

Every day we make choices that affect our health. As individuals we choose what we eat, how active we can be, whether we smoke. As parents we care for children and families and influence their health through the foods we provide, and the lifestyles we pursue. As friends and neighbors we socialize and include either healthful lifestyles or those that may be less healthy. As businesses we consider healthcare for our employees, and as workers we choose the insurance option if available that best meet our needs. Our churches, community organizations, schools, governments all have a role to play in influencing healthy lifestyles and the health of our community. But how do we measure the health of our community?

Since 2007 Healthy Lee representatives of all these community sectors have been meeting to do just that. Every three years we conduct a community health needs assessment by Professional Research Consultants, Inc. This survey shows whether Lee County residents’ health and wellness is improving or becoming more of a problem. It tells us about the risk factors for health and wellness too.

You can view the entire Community Health Needs Assessment at LeeCounty.HealthForecast.net. The website will connect you to the information and resources you need to truly understand the health challenges we, as a community, are facing. The latest report assesses a broad array of health outcomes and behaviors and provides a simple, user-friendly platform in which to review them.

With this data we can see how Lee County is progressing and how we compare to Florida and the nation, as well as best practices found in Healthy People 2020, a national goal for improving health. The 2014 study found many improvements including:

•The obesity rate improved 15.4 percent, and is now better than national and state averages, and better than the Healthy People 2020 goal

•The childhood obesity rate improved 34.5 percent

•The portion of our residents who meet physical activity recommendations increased 22.5 percent

•Heart disease and stroke related deaths dropped 29 percent

While we have seen improvements in exercise and activity levels which can lead to better health, our nutritional habits have gotten worse. We see increases in our residents who report fair or poor mental health, and obesity levels are still high. Since so many chronic diseases, including diabetes, are more prevalent with obesity, Healthy Lee considers the obesity rate to be the most important indicator of overall community health. We try to engage our community in more healthy choices to improve health.

A healthy community means more than keeping people from illness and injury. It engages individuals with their environment in support of a healthy lifestyle that promotes physical and mental well-being — and that’s what Healthy Lee is all about. We need to take responsibility for our health and overall quality of life, and we owe it to our children to instill healthy habits that will last them a lifetime.

HealthyLee.com offers the community information about what we can do locally at home, at school, in the workplace, such as nutrition and exercise info, smoking cessation, events to attend, health fairs, and more — endless community-based support you can access free of charge. You can also use it to post your own events and information. It was created for the community — it’s your website.

Sally Jackson is System Director of Government and Community Relations for Lee Memorial Health System.

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