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How can you improve your community’s health? A national expert weighs in.

St. Clair County health summit keynote speaker discusses community health

Around 250 people attended the annual St. Clair County IL health summit held at the Four Points Sheraton Conference Center in Fairview Heights, IL, located in southern Illinois near St. Louis, MO. The keynote speaker was Tyler Norris.
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Around 250 people attended the annual St. Clair County IL health summit held at the Four Points Sheraton Conference Center in Fairview Heights, IL, located in southern Illinois near St. Louis, MO. The keynote speaker was Tyler Norris.

These are uncertain times for public health, according to Tyler Norris, who was the keynote speaker at the annual St. Clair County health summit Thursday. The future of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, is up in the air as President Donald Trump is pushing to repeal and reform it.

Despite the uncertainty, Norris, a chief executive of the Institute for Mental Health and Wellness foundation, said everyone has a role to play in improving the health of themselves, their family and their community.

“One thing that is certain,” he said, is that health challenges such as domestic violence, substance abuse and chronic disease will not go away by themselves.

“How do we move from doing great things to being held accountable for outcomes?” Norris asked the almost 250 people attending the health summit at Four Points by Sheraton Conference Center in Fairview Heights.

According to the 2016 national County Health Rankings, St. Clair County ranked 93rd out of the 102 counties in Illinois. The 2017 rankings have not yet been released.

The goal of the annual health summit is to bring community members together to come up with initiatives and goals to improve the health of residents in St. Clair County. The top five health priorities include violence prevention, mental health, sexual health, chronic disease prevention and quality of life.

“Access to health care is vitally important,” Norris said. “I would call it a right, but it doesn’t guarantee health outcomes.”

Health areas in a person’s control include food consumption, exercise and use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs.

In order to affect health outcomes, Norris said an initiative must have reach a large number of people for a sustained period of time. Anything else is just “tinkering,” he said.

He feels it’s “unethical to do the same thing if it doesn’t do anything.”

Access to health care is vitally important. I would call it a right, but it doesn’t guarantee health outcomes.

Tyler Norris, chief executive of the Institute for Mental Health and Wellness foundation

Schools, for example, can have an effect on the amount of daily exercise children get. “Fourteen percent of schools in the nation are making sure students are getting 60 minutes of physical activity,” Norris said.

It takes school officials and business, civic and community leaders working together to have a “collective impact” on health outcomes. “We need to move from doing great things to being accountable,” Norris said. “We need to look at how everything we do impacts health.”

Equity in health care needs to be a priority, according to Norris. “Equity is the strategy we have to make a reality,” Norris said.

For instance, one in three children born today will become a diabetic, he said. That statistic increases to one in two if the child is African-American or Latino.

Norris ended his keynote speech with a quote from philosopher Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Jamie Forsythe: 618-239-2562, @BND_JForsythe

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