Metro-East News

August 6, 2014

Heavy news: St. Clair County is most obese in Illinois

St. Clair County is No. 1 in obesity in Illinois, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Forty percent of adults in the county are considered obese, the latest statistics from the CDC show.

The declaration comes at the same time the St. Clair County Health Department is losing a federal grant that has helped the county create programs to encourage healthy eating and active living.

The CDC defines adult obesity as an individual who has a body mass index, which is calculated by height and weight, of 30 or higher. For example, an individual who is 5-foot-9 is considered obese if he or she weighs 203 pounds or more.

The obesity percentage comes from 2012 statistics -- the most recent available. It is significantly higher than earlier reports that hovered around 32-33 percent of the St. Clair County population that is obese, according to Mark Peters, director of community health at the St. Clair County Health Department.

"We're the heaviest county in the state," Peters said.

Officials are working to find new money to replace and even expand on the "We Choose Health" federal grant, administered by the Illinois Department Public Health, which gave the county almost $750,000 during the past two years. However, federal cuts in Congress have ended the program two years early, eliminating a potential $580,000 of grant money over the next couple of years.

The grant helped install new bike racks around the county, create the Complete Street Leadership Team and Coordinated School Health training.

The health department has partnered with local agencies to apply for five new grants that could bring a potential $8.5 million into the area over the next three years to support policy, systems and environmental changes for chronic disease prevention and treatment.

St. Clair County partnered with the University of Illinois Extension to apply for a $500,000 Obesity Prevention grant.

St. Clair County also partnered with the YMCA, Get Up & Go, Heartlands Conservancy, East Side Health District and McKendree University to apply for the following grants:

* $500,000 GlaxoSmithKline private grant to fund for healthy eating and active living.

* $1.5 million National Prevention Partnership grant over three years.

* $3 million Partnerships to Improve Community Health grant over three years.

* $3 million (REACH) Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health over three years

Peters said the county expects to hear by the end of September if it is awarded any of those grants.

The push toward new grants, which created a "grant central" feeling at the health department, is a good thing and could potentially bring additional funding dollars to the county, Peters said.

"But it still would've been nice to have that funding for additional two years," he said of the We Choose Health Grant.

The $8.5 million would be "the biggest pot of money that we've had at our disposal," Peters said.

A lot of that money goes toward collective impact, or working with groups that want funding and asking local businesses and groups to kick in matching money, Peters explained.

For example, if a school would like to start a community garden, grant money could be used to help buy supplies, but officials would ask a business about donations and discounted prices on plants and soils. Those officials also would encourage a Boy Scout pack or other groups to help plant, Peters explained.

Projects at the city level also are affected by the county's grant funds, according to Jim Schneider, Belleville's director of human resources.

Matching city and county grant funds helped purchase about 30 bike racks around the city of Belleville, Schneider said.

"The people at Get Up & Go and the health department will see different opportunities that we as a city don't see everyday," Schneider said. "It allows us to do more than we can do by ourselves."

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