Durham puts focus on health

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 25, 2013

Obamacare. Medicare. Medicaid. The news is filled with health care stories about what’s working, what’s not and who’s to blame.
There’s no denying we need information but the media noise and crowd hysteria is distracting. But one thing is increasingly obvious: the way to top health care results begins at the bottom, with each person.
North Carolina’s healthcare statistics are dismal. We consistently rank in the bottom third of states. Nearly 30 percent of our adults have high blood pressure, almost 40 percent have high cholesterol levels, 10 percent have diabetes and more than 55 percent admit they have taken no physical exercise in the past 30 days. Most troublesome is the statistic that 65 percent of our adults and 40 percent of our children are overweight or obese. Approximately 70 cents of every healthcare dollar is spent on chronic care management, and a large amount of that is preventable.

Durham has long boasted of being first in health care and this week launched a city-county campaign designed to put the health of their residents first. Called “A Healthier Durham,” this comprehensive effort starts with the basic understanding that every person is responsible for his or her own health.
Durham’s goals are ambitious. They aim to enlist 28,000 Durhamites to participate in 420,000 hours of activity and lose 280,000 pounds of weight. Gayle Harris, public health director for Durham County, challenged residents to imagine the great benefits they will receive by achieving these goals.
“This initiative targets reducing and preventing obesity, an epidemic that undergirds the leading causes of death,” said Harris at the kickoff to the campaign. “We know that for the very first time, children will not live as long as their parents if we don’t get a handle on obesity rates,” she said. “We want to move the needle on obesity reduction and prevention so that we, too, can be a community of health.”
If successful, this bottom-up approach will most certainly reduce obesity, blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes management. More importantly, it will reduce public and individual health care costs.

Durham citizens can go to their new website, www.ahealthierdurham.com and get tips for better eating and exercise that will improve energy and health. But the key ingredient is a page on the site where each person can enter their current weight, set goals, journal their daily exercise and record weight loss. While each individual’s page is private and confidential, the cumulate numbers of participants, exercise hours and weight loss will be updated continuously to show how this county is achieving its goals. Early reports are extremely surprising and Durham officials are Bullish — after all, they are the Bull City — they can meet or exceed their goals.
The county is making an all-out effort, printing and distributing instruction cards to schools, churches, civic groups and businesses, then following up with messaging campaigns throughout the year to maintain interest, attract new participants and report their progress.
The Durham challenge should be a challenge to every county and every individual in our state. Instead of waiting for others to find solutions to better health, this county is proactive in doing something, taking local and personal responsibility and uniting their city and county in common goals that will surely yield “A Healthier Durham.”
Tom Campbell is executive producer and moderator of “NC SPIN,” a public affairs program.