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Healthier living requires community focus

Mary Ganzel

Mary Ganzel

I attended a luncheon at Albany Technical College this past Wednesday which was fabulous. Since February is recognized nationally as American Heart Month, the topic was “An Affair of the Heart.” It was great to see the Dougherty County Health Department working in collaboration with Albany Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Southwest Health District and Albany Technical College to provide a healthy meal and a great learning opportunity.

Dr. Jacqueline Grant, Southwest District health director, spoke on heart disease and shared a wealth of information regarding health issues at a national and state level. She even shared how Southwest Georgia has a higher risk for heart disease and other lifestyle-related diseases as compared to the state of Georgia as a whole. She finished her talk asking, “So what are you going to do different as a result of what you learned today?” Here’s my answer to her question. I will use what the YMCA has learned through the Activate America® program and the Pioneering Healthier Communities (PHC) program to improve the health of Albany residents.

Today, the United States faces a national public health crisis as Americans deal with rising chronic disease rates resulting from three main risk factors: physical inactivity, unhealthy eating, and tobacco use and exposure. As the national resource office for this country’s 2,686 YMCAs, YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) responded to the nation’s alarming chronic disease rates by initiating Activate America®. Through Activate America®, YMCAs are working to better engage health-seekers. Health seekers are individuals of all ages who require a supportive environment to successfully achieve health and well-being goals. In other words, these are individuals who don’t practice a healthy lifestyle, and who need more motivation to do so than a more health-conscious individual.

Pioneering Healthier Communities is an important component to the YMCA’s response to the national health crisis. PHC is built on the concept that local communities can work together to give all Americans healthy choices and support their pursuit of healthy lifestyles. This ambitious work could not be timelier. Physical inactivity and unhealthy eating are associated with an increased risk of a number of chronic health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers, as well as obesity. More than one-third of American adults — over 60 million people — are obese. In addition, the percentage of young people who are overweight has tripled over the last 25 years.

To truly counteract the nation’s chronic disease crisis, a focused effort is needed — one that encourages healthy living and engages all sectors of society with a focus on policy and environmental change (changes in the physical environment that supports healthy behaviors). For significant and sustained changes to occur, there must be a coordinated effort at the national, state and local levels. As the nation braces for baby boomers’ retirement, the health care system and our pocketbooks will not be able to sustain the costs associated with obesity and chronic disease. PHC — with its emphasis on sustainable local changes and supportive national partnerships — is the type of movement that can effectively address the public health crisis in the United States.

PHC employs seven practices which research has found to contribute to the success of community wellness programs:

  1. Community collaborators must start with a shared, compelling vision and spirit of inquiry;

  2. Collaborations must adapt to emerging opportunities;

  3. Communities should learn from the success of other programs — borrowing others’ ideas to build their own;

  4. Collaborators should engage cross-boundary leaders who care;

  5. Members of the collaboration can serve in multiple roles;

  6. All endeavors should use data to guide, not drive, the effort;

  7. The collaboration must develop leadership structures that distribute ownership and action.

The Albany Area YMCA is eager to collaborate with other community agencies to make a difference in the community we serve. The Y’s past partnerships have addressed serious community health issues such as diabetes and obesity, but there is so much more that needs to be done. The YMCA desires to be part of the solution to our health care crisis. Working in partnership with local hospitals, school systems, health organizations, government, academic institutions, large employers, non-profit agencies, and other community partners, we can combine resources and employ our shared vision to make the Albany area a healthier and more vibrant place to live. Let’s work together!

Mary Ganzel works at the Albany Area YMCA as senior program director. She has a master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of Kentucky and has worked in the fitness industry for more than 25 years. She’s been certified through multiple national organizations over the years as a personal trainer, exercise test technologist, health promotion director, group exercise instructor, Cycle Reebok instructor and Pilates instructor through Cooper Institute, American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise, Aerobic Fitness Association of America and the Young Mens Christian Association.