MOUNT VERNON — Efforts to promote healthy eating and active lifestyles received a boost with renewal of a grant from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are one of 23 counties in Ohio that have received this funding,” Tami Ruhl, coordinator of the Creating Healthy Communities project, told the county commissioners on Thursday.
Under the five-year grant, Creating Healthy Communities (CHC) will receive $100,000 a year.
CHC's goal is to decrease and prevent chronic disease. CHC dos this by increasing residents' access to healthy food, including making it more affordable, and increasing the opportunities for exercise through active living.
CHC identified three priority communities: Knox County, the City of Mount Vernon, and the Village of Danville. CHC promotes one healthy food initiative and one active living project in each community.
For 2020, ongoing projects include community gardens, a free bike-lending program in Danville in partnership with Danville Outdoors, the Produce Perks program, and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Ruhl said that residents involved in community gardens are encouraged to plant an extra row of produce to distribute to local food pantries.
New projects the CHC is exploring include a safe route into the village from the welcome center at the Heart of Ohio Trail in Centerburg. In Fredericktown, considered a food desert due to not having a grocery store, efforts include bolstering the farmers market, food pantries, and Interchurch Social Services.
CHC is working to identify a retailer in Danville to participate in the Produce Perks program. The Produce Perks program enables SNAP members to double their money by using their SNAP card at specific retailers.
“The way the transaction occurs is up to the retailer,” explained Ruhl. “It might be coupons to be used on a return visit or a discount off on their current visit.”
Ruhl said that CHC is also working to identify a bike infrastructure project in Danville. Last year's project was a bike repair station installed at the Kokosing Gap Trail.
The CHC will work with the City of Mount Vernon to pass a resolution supporting a Complete Streets vision. Complete Streets involve ensuring public streets are safe and convenient for all modes of transportation.
Ruhl said that in the day of horse-drawn buggies, streets served pedestrians and bicyclists as well as buggies. As the automobile became more prominent, streets became geared toward motorists and unsafe for other modes of transportation.
“It makes active living possible,” Ruhl said of the Complete Streets vision. “If they don't feel comfortable, [active living] won't work.”
Asked about the dollar benefit to Knox County through the grant, Ruhl said that most of the grant money supports personnel time.
Health Commissioner Julie Miller also visited the commissioners on Thursday, reviewing statistics from the health department's 2019 annual report. A few highlights include:
- A slight uptick in the birthrate for single mothers, home births, and low-birth-weight babies. Miller said health department staff will “dig into low birth weights a little bit deeper" to make certain that families are connected with necessary services.
- An increase in deaths related to lung disease, which also follows national and state trends. Miller believes that is related to how physicians are reporting it.
- Animal bites: dog bites were down, cat bites increased
- 6.7% decrease in WIC caseload (Women, Infants, & Children). Miller said this could be due to a better economy or not knowing about the program.
- Continued growth at the Community Health Center. Patients served grew from 2,885 in 2018 to 6,266 in 2019. Total visits grew from 5,052 to 8,212, and new patients grew from 645 to 1,464.
Miller said the health department is exploring ways to partner with local schools under the state's school wellness program. The Ohio Department of Education awarded school districts money to launch student wellness initiatives. Partnerships thus far include funding a nurse at the Knox County Career Center, which has never had a nurse, and two nurses at East Knox.
She also said the health center needs more space. The health department and health center have formed a Facilities Committee to look into expansion possibilities and costs. Possibilities include renovating a building on the Siemens campus, installing a modular unit on the current site, or building new.