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Study checks the pulse of Levy health

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Adult smokers are on the decline in Levy County, but work remains to be done on the Healthiest Weight initiative, according to the Florida Department of Health's Levy Community Health Assessment (CHA) for Levy County, conducted in 2012 and 2013.

The FLDOH, along with its community partners, conducted the assessment to better understand the complex health environment in the county and to use the data to produce a Community Health Improvement Plan or CHIP

The assessment is essential because it's the first step in addressing the health needs of the community, said Levy County Health Department (CHD) Administrator Barbara Locke. 

“You have to identify problems and issues first before you can move forward to intervene,” she said.  “The CHIP is our County’s roadmap to improving the health of our residents.”

The CHA results indicate that Levy CHD has made an impact in two key areas; decreasing the percentage of low birth weight babies, babies born whose weight is less than five pounds, and decreasing the number of adult smokers. 

The percentage of low birth weight babies in Levy County is at an all time low of 7.4 percent, a 2.1 percent decrease in the last nine years, which is below the state average of 8.7 percent. 

Locke said she believes this to be a result of the work her team is doing through the Healthy Start program, which has a goal to reduce low birth weight and improve perinatal outcomes.  This program achieves its goal by providing in-home parenting and support during pregnancy and immediately after birth.

The CHA results also show that Levy County’s percentage of adult smokers has decreased from 27.8 percent in 2002 to 18.9 percent in 2009. 

“We are excited to see the decrease in the number of adult smokers,” Locke said. “The FLDOH has waged a vigorous state awareness campaign to stop smoking, but I believe it’s the support from our local Area Health Education Program to provide ongoing, county-wide, free smoking cessation programs that has made and will continue to make it possible for so many people within our community to quit smoking.” 

But there is still work to be done. 

The Florida State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health, Dr. John H. Armstrong, is campaigning to help Florida’s children and adults make better choices about healthy eating and active living.

“Adults on average spend four-and-one-half hours a day in front of the television screen,” Armstrong said. “The problem with being inactive is that your body remembers, slowly.”

The statistics support Armstrong’s claims. 

According to Florida’s Healthiest Weight website, 65 percent of adults in Florida are at an unhealthy weight, and the costs of care for chronic diseases related to obesity are now estimated to be $34 billion over the next 17 years.

Levy County’s CHA found that, in 2010, almost 60 percent of Levy County residents participate in either moderate physical or vigorous physical activity. However, like the state, 67.2 percent of Levy County’s residents are overweight or obese.  

Levy County Administrator Barbara Locke said one of the goals for the coming year for the health department is to address these findings and to focus our efforts on raising awareness about the Healthiest Weight initiative.

“The initial goal of Healthiest Weight Florida is to bend the projected weight curve by 5 percent over the next four years,” said Dr. Armstrong. “This is a call to action for families, communities and businesses together to address the top public health threat to Florida’s bright future: weight. Let’s make Healthiest Weight a team sport.”