Hopkins County rallies to fight childhood obesity

Madisonville, KY – Wallace has managed the Hopkins County YMCA for years, and his concerns are extremely valid. According to statistics from non-profit organization, Trust for America's Health, Kentucky ranks fourth in the highest rate of childhood obesity and ranks 7th in adults.

With these staggering statistics in mind, Wallace teamed up with seasoned grant writer and Madisonville Community College professor David Schuermer. The two applied for and received a 12-thousand dollar grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fight the issue. But, Wallace says, it will take more than money and extra crunches to improve his community's future.

"This grant is more abstract in the sense that there's a lot of lee-way to address what your community feels is the major number one need in it, to improve accessibility to walking trails, or fresh fruits and vegetables, or farmers' markets a lot of different things that are going to improve the health of individuals, not just weight management, but a healthy lifestyle."

Wallace has a sound model to follow. The first healthy community model the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation decided to fund was the national YMCA in Washington DC. For the past six years, project director Monica Vinluan has overseen initiatives within communities across the country.

"We actually think of Louisville and Lexington as two of our shining stars in our work, in our healthy communities initiatives."

The newest communities, including Madisonville, head to Washington DC in February for training and are told, not to come with any preconceived plans. Vinluan explains their reasoning.

"So that's actually part of what the design of this initiative is, is to really help distribute that leadership around the table of various stakeholders that really want to make a change, but maybe have only been working on their own agendas. So what this whole process is about, it's about tearing down silos, tearing down turf battles and turf issues and really just coming together with a blank piece of paper to say, How are we, together, sitting at this table, going to try to solve this problem?' and try to come up with solutions."

Principal Charles Gant of Broadway Elementary will be among the group headed to D.C., he has seen thousands of children through his 18 years in education. He says the recent trends in overweight children are troubling.

"And I think it's kind of embedded now, in our culture, with a lot of the technological things that involve kids are not getting out and not doing a lot of things like we used to do when we were younger."

Currently, Gant's school participates in physical fitness classes and recess, but other than that, children don't get a lot of outside time.

Wallace says the heart of the issue is the future of all overweight children. More expensive health care bills combined with an already struggling economy don't point to anything good. Numerous statistics reveal higher rates of hyper tension, diabetes, cancer and other diseases. Wallace says the outlook at the current rate is grim. Without any change, history will be altered.

"This current generation coming up is the first generation predicted to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. So, I have to leave that with the medical people to come up with that, but actually we're going to peak in our lifespan so that in the next generation, because of this overweight epidemic, it's going to they're parents are going to out live them. There are going to be more parents outliving their children."

Training for the teams across the country is February 17th through 19th. After that point, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will track the on-going success of the program and each group could receive $52,000 over a two year period and would be eligible for $10,000 annually for years 3,4, and 5.

While the funding is helpful Wallace says, there's no one issue that will help families be healthier. His reasoning is that the real change will happen when the entire community is involved.