Clinton County coalition works to change the health lifestyle of its children, in an effort to change the local health culture

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
Public officials and local leaders in a small, rural county in Southern Kentucky that ranks near the bottom of in the County Health Rankings for the state have formed a coalition to improve the health of its community, with a focus on its children.

Clinton County (Wikipedia map)

Clinton County ranked 102nd out of 120 Kentucky counties in the 2016 County Health Rankings. “We recognize that. We saw that in our kids,” Lora Brewington, chief compliance officer of Cumberland Family Medical Center Inc., told Kentucky Educational Television in a report to be aired soon about the coalition.“And if we don’t change something now, we’re going to be going to the funeral home for kids a lot younger.”

So, with the help of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, they formed the Clinton County Healthy Hometown Coalition to implement a multi-faceted public health program for the community’s citizens, that focuses on its children.

“The coalition came together [according to] Aristotle’s thinking, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Brewington told KET. “We have a lot of great groups, that do a lot of great things, but if everyone is going for the same goal, and the resources are not combined, you’re not going to accomplish anything. And once we get everybody together and on the same page, by combining resources, we’ve been able to do some great things.”

Paula Little, assistant superintendent and supervisor of instruction for Clinton County schools, told KET that the coalition recognized most of the county’s health issues stemmed from obesity, and decided to focus their efforts on the children in the community to change their culture.

“So we feel like if we can start young and start with our children and teach them healthy habits and healthy lifestyles that when they grow up they won’t be faced with obesity and all of those chronic diseases that go with it,” Little said.

Many of the coalition’s activities are school-based. Teachers have incorporated physical activity into the school day as well as during their morning routines and after-school day-care programs.

The coalition has worked with the schools to improve nutrition. Fruits and vegetables are now served every day with every meal. The schools also began offering supper to students during the school year and has since served over 6,400 meals. The program began last October.

Recognizing that an estimated 38 percent of Clinton County’s children live in low-income families, the coalition launched a summer food program that delivers breakfast and lunch in a retrofitted school bus called the Bus Stop Café to areas in the county with high student populations.

The Healthy Hometown Coalition has also implemented school-based health clinics, which provides for the healthcare needs of students through a public-private partnership while they are at school. The clinics are run by the Cumberland Family Medical Center. In addition to providing clinical care, the clinics provide body mass index assessments and provide nutrition and obesity counseling.

“It’s about accessibility,” Brewington said. “It’s about the kid who has a cough and needs to see a doctor, but the parent can’t take off from work. …It’s about having healthcare right there where the child is the majority of the time.”

Not mentioned in the KET report is that Clinton County schools implemented a comprehensive smoke-free policy last year that will go into effect in July. The policy will ban smoking on school property both during school hours and during school sponsored events, and also includes electronic cigarettes and all vapor products.

The coalition is working to change the culture of its community so that a healthy lifestyle becomes the norm, and not the exception.

“When you’re attempting to change a culture, and change the way people live, that’s a very long process,” Little said. “And it has to be something that’s consistent, that’s ongoing, and it has to be a message that children hear everywhere they go in the community.”

A full-time coordinator, April Speck, manages the various coalition programs and writes a weekly health column in the Clinton County News that often celebrates individual success stories. The coalition also sponsors community events, and has built a new playground.

“What makes me feel good about it is that I know there’s a real need here,” Speck told KET. “There’s a lot of kids who have childhood obesity… And just seeing them start to make changes in what they are doing, how much they are eating, their water intake, I know that we’re making an improvement.”

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