Joyce Marie Taylor
Florida State Surgeon General John Armstrong has been visiting all the health departments in the state and he stopped in at the Florida Department of Health-Lafayette County recently to chat with personnel and listen to their concerns and answer questions.
Staff prepared fresh fruits and vegetables and homemade banana nut bread for Armstrong’s visit and he applauded them for thinking healthy.
“The really cool thing about our state is that every community has something going for it,” said Armstrong of all the health departments he has visited throughout the state. “You really pick up on that.”
Lafayette Health Department Administrator Pam Blackmon, who also serves Suwannee County, recalled the last time she saw Armstrong, which was immediately after Tropical Storm Debby devastated the area in 2012.
“We had to open up offsite for a month,” said Blackmon. “We operated out of one of the schools because the road (Nobles Ferry) to the health department was flooded.”
Lafayette County Commissioners Gail Garrard and Earnest Jones, along with many of the health department staff, including now retired dentist Stanley Jones, gathered for an informal meeting with Armstrong to discuss health issues, including the challenges rural counties face when providing healthcare for residents.
Armstrong’s objective for his visits is to listen to concerns and try to factor them into a master plan across the state to ensure there are enough resources.
“I’m also putting a spotlight on the top public health threat that we face in Florida, which is our weight challenge,” said Armstrong. “We’re not alone. It turns out there are 49 other states and the District of Columbia facing the same challenge.”
What sets Florida apart, Armstrong said, is that the state is willing to address the situation in a unique way that focuses on empowering communities.
Blackmon said addressing healthy weights for all citizens is part of the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) for Lafayette County.
“You, as leaders here in this community, have a great opportunity to set the example and direct attention to this,” said Armstrong.
Weight-challenged people, he explained, live sicker, die younger and threaten the livelihood of families.
“The costs of healthcare are extraordinary,” he added. “It ultimately gets really personal. We’re talking about people missing birthdays, missing graduations and missing anniversaries.”
In today’s modern world, Armstrong said, to have life expectancy numbers go down because of weight issues is unfathomable.
“Who knew that was going to happen in the new millennium?” he rhetorically asked. “Six out of 10 babies born today in the state of Florida will be obese or overweight before graduating from high school. That’s not a future that any of us wants for our kids.”
Armstrong said the state’s obesity rate has tripled over the last 25 years, going from 12 to 36 percent. By reshaping community environments to concentrate on healthy eating and living habits, Armstrong said making healthy choices will be easier, but it won’t happen overnight.
“It’s just a matter of doing it over time, day in and day out,” he said.
Many in the room agreed that food portion control is the key to keeping a healthy weight.
“We want to be the healthiest weight state in the nation,” said Armstrong. “That’s our goal, to be number one. Right now we’re number 12. When we started this initiative only a year ago we were number 19.”