LUMBERTON — Robeson County residents eat too much, smoke too much and consume too much alcohol, making them among the unhealthiest people in the state.
On Thursday night, the county’s Board of Health heard details of a five-year plan to improve the health of local residents and those from across the state.
Representatives of the Community Transformation Grant Project said its goal is to lower the obesity and disease rates and promote healthy living habits through tobacco-free living, active-living, healthy eating and clinical preventive services. These efforts would be led by local health departments.
Ernest Watts said tobacco use can be curbed by tightening regulations in government buildings, parks and recreation centers, public housing, community colleges and universities.
“Times are changing,” said Watts, who worked in the tobacco fields of Robeson County as a child. “Everyone acknowledges secondhand smoke now. Businesses don’t want smokers.”
The five-year initiative is in its second year, receiving $420,000 year from the state.
The project divides the state into 10 regions. Robeson is one of nine counties in Region 8, which also includes Duplin, New Hanover, Bladen, Sampson, Onslow, Brunswick, Pender and Columbus counties.
Three of the project’s representatives spoke to the Health Board about how Robeson County could benefit.
Bob Barden shared the active-living plan, which includes establishing a comprehensive land-use plan in Robeson County that will coordinate economic development, transportation and water and air policies with their environmental impacts.
Barden said a land-use plan will prevent construction of a factory “that will blow smoke over people” in a housing development. Barden said the active living plan calls on health departments to sign joint-use agreements with schools and churches so they can offer healthy living classes to the public.
“We’ve got to get rid of this idea to wait until you get sick before you start taking care of yourself,” he said, adding that Robeson County is ranked 99th of North Carolina’s 100 counties in healthy living. Another recent study showed Robeson County was No. 1 in the state in obesity.
Travis Greer said health departments should partner with farmers markets to reach out to people who don’t live near a supermarket. He said farmers markets should be able to accept food stamps.
“The convenience-store trinity is cigarettes, alcohol and unhealthy food and snacks,” Greer said.
Greer said the clinical preventive services plan calls for doctors to prescribe lifestyle changes, not just medicine, especially to combat high cholesterol, high blood pressure and tobacco use, which are prevalent in Robeson County.
Betsy Redman, the project’s lead coordinator, said it will involve health departments partnering with retail and land-use industries, among others, “which they typically don’t collaborate with.” She said the project will also provide “a real new angle” of looking at obesity and diseases.
“It you make [food] palatable and still healthy, that’ll help a lot, because you can tell people it’s healthy, but if they don’t like it, they’re not going to eat it,” said Dr. Kenneth Locklear, a member of the Health Board.
In other business, the Board of Health voted unanimously to distribute $3,500 to Robeson County towns to help with mosquito control, and to write off $69,105.66 in bad debt.