Obesity continues to drop in Pima County

Javier Herrera, Pima County Board of Health. (Photo by: Mary Ann Sharp/Arizona Sonora News Service)

Obesity continues to be a statewide problem in Arizona.

In Pima County, 26.6 percent of adults are overweight or obese and high school students are more at risk of being obese because they are not getting enough physical activity and fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control division of community health reports.

Courtesy photo by: Obesity prevalence map

Certain ethnic groups tend to be significantly higher in the Pima County area due to not enough access to physical activity and healthy grocery stores. According to the CDC, 33.1 percent of Hispanics are obese. The national average is 30.6 percent.

Courtesy photo by: Obesity prevalence map

Obesity rates in Pima County are fairly high because of food insecurity among children and adults as well as low-income, elderly and children with limited access to a grocery store, according to Javier Herrera, community engagement program manager for the Pima County Board of Health.

“In 2010 we received a grant for $15.75 million from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services … and we invested a lot of money to increase resources to physical activity,” said Herrera.

Courtesy photo by: Obesity prevalence map

In 2008, 20 percent of children ages 6-11 were considered obese and 18 percent of adolescents ages 12-19 were obese, according to the CDC.

According to Rebecca Drummond at the University of Arizona College of Public Health Department,  The Pima County Community Putting Prevention to work (CPPW) sent out community partners to help out schools and provide knowledge to establish wellness Coordinators, facilitate the formation of school health advisory councils and access and change the policy of  the local school health system.

Since the start of CPPW, 49 schools have installed gardens or some sort of active living style. It also established strategies in schools to promote easy access to healthy foods and physical activity all throughout the day.

Since 2010, Pima County Board of Health and CPPW efforts worked on preventing the increase of obesity and changed their policy by making better access to healthy, affordable food and safe physical activity according to Annemarie Medina, Corporate Wellness director, YMCA of Southern Arizona.

“We were the glue that kept everything together,” said Medina.

Pima County Board of Health and non profit organizations worked hard to decrease obesity rates by establishing healthy living and active living in low-income neighborhoods near South, Tucson.

“Physical activity and nutrition were major concerns especially near South, Tucson. So during that two year grant we provided safe and accessible places for physical activity, developed and expanded home and school gardening,” said Herrera.

Pima County board of health and the funding organizations also helped to expand farmer markets, created and implemented wellness policies that supported healthy eating and improved the quality of life for pima county residents.

Farmer markets now allow EBT machines, debit/credit machines and Snap benefits and WIC vouchers. Free health clinics like the El Rio Foundation put in a fitness room, instituted a healthy food policy for meetings and provided on site yoga and zumba classes.

“It is so important to be active. It is all about having enough access. If people don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods then they are not going to get the physical activity that they need. We need to make safer environments and I think that we were pretty successful at this but it can be better,” said Medina.

Mary Ann Sharp is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a news service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at msharp1@email.arizona.edu

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