PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Education, sidewalks and improved accommodations for bicyclists — including bike lanes, trails and racks — are on the wish list of stakeholders throughout Crawford County when it comes to tipping the scale on poor health indicators.
For the past three weeks, members of Live Well Crawford County have staged community conversations in Frontenac, Cherokee, Girard and Franklin to gather input on what challenges could be keeping the county in the bottom third of Kansas counties when it comes to health.
Crawford County was ranked 88th this year out of 100 counties evaluated by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. Factors included an adult obesity rate of 33 percent and 28 percent of adults being physically inactive.
Live Well received $25,000 this year from the Kansas Health Foundation’s Healthy Community Initiatives for planning purposes, and it is eligible to reapply for three years if the state program likes what the group achieves during the planning stage.
On Thursday, the final round of community conversations was held for Pittsburg residents, with people weighing in during noon and night meetings at Via Christi Hospital.
Becky Gray and Dick Horton, representatives of the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program, asked those in attendance to talk about how Crawford County could become healthier, what the economic impacts of doing so would be, and what success stories elsewhere could serve as a model.
They specifically asked attendees to contribute ideas for encouraging physical activity among adults and youths, and to identify possible indoor and outdoor opportunities that are underused.
Jack Bache, director of the Pittsburg Family YMCA, said it is challenging to get adults who are inactive to become active, but in recent years it also has become more difficult to get children to sign up for activities. He said he believes increased physical education in schools may be the answer.
“I don’t know how USD 250 (the Pittsburg School District) approaches PE anymore, but is it very much time?” he said. “It seems like that is an important part of education and may be more important than other subjects, but schools may tend to disagree with that.”
Brian Biermann, assistant superintendent for Pittsburg schools, said students do not have physical education every day, as time is limited by instructional demands placed on schools by the federal and state governments.
“Schools don’t disagree; our hands are tied,” Biermann said.
Kim Vogel, director of the Pittsburg Parks and Recreation Department, said residents may not know what opportunities are available for indoor exercise such as walking. If churches with gymnasiums make them open to the public, for example, and they are close to neighborhoods in which people would use them, perhaps that information could be shared in some way, Vogel said.
Several attendees mentioned getting businesses involved by providing employees access to an internal health center or offering wellness incentives. Others said they are most concerned about the lack of sidewalks in certain sections of town, especially on the north end, where it is difficult for joggers, walkers and bicyclists to exercise safely.
A few suggested that visible reminders be posted around town that encourage residents to use stairs or walk more often. Others noted the socioeconomic factors at play, including children who cannot afford bicycles.
Others said Pittsburg simply is not pedestrian- or bike-friendly.
“I would ride my bike downtown, but without bike racks, where do you park?” said Rita Girth, operations director of the Bryant Student Health Center at Pittsburg State University.
“In a perfect world, as they did street improvements they would put in bike lanes,” added Ann Elliott, local Smart Start coordinator.
Linda Timme, who lives near PSU and is the Crawford County nutritionist, said she sees residents near her home “out all the time” because of the available sidewalks and hiking and biking trails. “If they’re there, people will use them,” she said.
While Brian Pinamonti, a physical therapist and lifelong resident, agreed that several of the suggestions were valid, he said he believes the underlying problem in Crawford County is behavioral.
“You can have all the sidewalks you want, but if you don’t have the thought process ...,” he said. “It’s a thought process. You go to Lawrence, Kan., and the thought process is there. The culture is there. It’s not here. How do we reach this obese population, this demographic that is so sedentary that they’re not going to do anything? We’ve got to change the thinking.”
IN COMING WEEKS, the priorities that come out of each of Live Well’s community conversations will be organized and included in the organization’s final proposal to the Kansas Health Foundation.