The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 12, 2012

Crawford County official lists sidewalks as top priority for improving health

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Crawford County has something in common with neighboring Vernon County, Mo. Both rank poor in health, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Both counties, in fact, rank 88th in their respective states.

Like Vernon County, Crawford County has numerous poor individual health indexes. Adult smoking, sexually transmitted diseases, teen births and preventable hospital stays far exceed the state and national averages.

Like Vernon County, Crawford County ranks near the bottom in many socioeconomic indicators. In Crawford County school districts, between 57 and 65 percent of the families with children in public schools are economically disadvantaged, and unemployment hovers around 7.5 to 8.2 percent.

Crawford County Health Director Janice Godeke said the biggest issue, though, may be the “car mentality” of residents. People just don’t walk as much as they should, opting to use cars even for quick trips to a nearby grocery store or for delivering children to a school that is a few blocks from home.

Godeke has listed sidewalks as the top priority for improving health, and she said it would transcend all socioeconomic barriers.

“If we had better access to biking and walking routes, that’s a very, very cheap solution to what’s become an epidemic, and everyone can use them regardless of income,” she said.

At the health department, Godeke is walking the talk: “We’re working on measuring out an inside path for employees so they know how many laps equals a mile. Employers need to take care of their employees. Our county’s health starts with baby steps, and it will take everyone.”

She praised a local company, Pitsco, which for several years has paid for memberships to the Pittsburg Family YMCA for its employees.

She said it would take a “community effort to correct the problem,” and that employers need to support wellness programs.

Live Well Crawford County also is trying to help, according to its director, Joanna Rhodes.

In the past year, Live Well Crawford County has given thousands of dollars in grants for farmers markets, walking and biking trails, and healthy concessions. This year, it began regularly presenting Apple Awards to businesses and individuals who help the community lead healthy lives.

Among the first recipients was Roger Lomshek, owner of Tailwind Cyclists, who has advocated for improved recreational opportunities in Pittsburg and was a driving force behind the creation of the 23rd Street Bike Park. Also honored was the Southeast School District Health Council, which has purchased pedometers for staff members, organized free health screenings and family fun nights, and provided teachers with a GeoFitness system to combine fitness with music and math.

Community discussion

Live Well Crawford County will conduct a Healthy Communities Initiatives meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 5. Director Joanna Rhodes said the committee also plans to have community conversations throughout September to get input from county residents. More details will be announced in coming weeks.

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