LIMA — Activate Allen County Director Cheri Mitchell was the keynote speaker Wednesday at the quarterly public officials dialogue hosted by the Allen County Economic Development Group at the Lima-Allen County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
Activate Allen County has set an goal of helping area citizens to make healthier eating choices. Mitchell said that nationwide, improving health and adopting better eating habits has always been battled with education.
“Everyone knows what it is to have a healthier diet,” Mitchell said. “We are changing how we approach the issue.”
Mitchell said as people now live faster-paced lifestyles, problems with eating habits has now become more of an issue of convenience.
“People often are in situations where making the healthy choice is not an option,” Mitchell said. “We are working to make those options available.”
One of those efforts has included speaking with local restaurants and encouraging healthier choices. Mitchell said Activate Allen County had just recently worked with The Meeting Place on Market and worked out healthier choices on menu items, which they are currently putting into practice.
“A lot of places have a default option for a meal, like getting fries,” Mitchell said. “There is discussion among many chains of making something like a side salad the default option rather than fries. We are encouraging choices like that.”
Mitchell said they are also trying to get local hospitals to encourage new mothers to make the healthier choice of breastfeeding their newborns.
“Right now the default is handing you a bag of formula to take home,” Mitchell said. “I just had a baby in May. I remember being told by someone that they had a problem breastfeeding, so here is the formula just in case. I was headstrong and had my mind made up I was going to breastfeed. Some women that might not be as sure could be easily talked out of it.”
Mitchell said Activate Allen County has just recently partnered with St. Rita’s Medical Center in an effort to encourage breastfeeding.
Location and income levels also play heavily into the equation, Mitchell said. She said there are eight areas in Allen County that are designated as food deserts. Food deserts are areas classified as having limited access to healthy food due to being in a rural area or because of lower incomes. Mitchell said Activate Allen County is working on making healthier food more accessible for people in those locations.
Mitchell said Allen County ranked 83rd of the 88 counties in Ohio for health behaviors. According to the 2009 community needs assessment 41 percent of its citizens were obese and another 36 percent were overweight.
“We want to work on changing the health practices in Allen County,” Mitchell said.