LIMA — While many can still remember admonishments at the dinner table to “eat your vegetables,” that is not a consistent practice for many in Allen County.
According to the 2017 Allen County Health Risk and Community Needs Assessment, a collaboration between Allen County Public Health, Activate Allen County, Lima Memorial Health System, the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize and Hardin Counties, St. Rita’s Medical Center and the United Way of Greater Lima, just over half of Allen County adults eat less than one vegetable serving per day, with 18 percent of adults in the county not having any servings of fruit in the past seven days.
“It raises the question of, ‘Is this an affordability question? Is this an access question? Is this an awareness question? Or does it boil down to preference or habit?’” according to John Snyder, a professor of health and rehabilitation sciences at Ohio State University at Lima. “What you grew up eating, you continue to eat as an adult.”
This news was coupled with the fact that 70 percent of the county population was listed as overweight or obese. However, that number is down from 77 percent in 2012.
This year’s assessment is the sixth conducted in Allen County, following similar assessments in 1995, 2002, 2005, 2009 and 2014. The assessment was assembled through a survey sent to 1,200 adults as well, with 41 percent of those surveyed participating, as students in county schools.
An emphasis was placed on surveying the African-American community in Allen County. However, 12 percent of those surveyed responded, creating a larger margin of error.
Part of the goal was to examine how multiple factors, such as income level, mental health, housing and transportation can all work together to impact the health of the community.
“If you have a safe and healthy place to live, the ability to get where you need to go and having clean air to breathe, it is alluded to increased wellness,” Allen County Public Health Director of Health Planning Services Monica Harnish said. “It is a cost-cutting factor that affects all areas, such as maternal and child health, substance abuse and wellness in general.”
While news of county obesity and eating habits may be disconcerting, there is room for optimism, according to the survey, with residents with high blood pressure diagnoses down from 41 percent in 2009 to 34 percent, as well as smoking rates down from 22 percent in 2009 to 18 percent. Additionally, adults who rated their health as very good or excellent rose from 45 percent in 2014 to 57 percent. Those improvements go back to such initiatives as Activate Allen County’s Healthy Happens Here program, where local convenience stores are offering healthier produce options, as well as more county businesses and schools incorporating healthy living and wellness programs, encompassing approximately 4,700 employees and 4,500 students in Allen County.
“Our goal is to make every zip code in Allen County a healthy zip code,” Allen County Health Commissioner Kathy Luhn said.