Legislators take on a Healthier State House Challenge

Reprinted with the permission of the South Carolina Hospital Association.

Rep. Neal Collins is on a mission to make the State House a healthier place to govern.

He’s challenging his fellow legislators to make better food choices and increase their physical activity during this year’s session.

Collins has teamed up with the South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA) and the Alliance of YMCAs to create A Healthier State House among state legislators and legislative staffers. Palmetto Health, Providence Hospitals, Hilton Head Hospital, Eat Smart Move More SC, SC Departments of Health and Environmental Control and Parks, Recreation and Tourism, and YMCAs across the state will provide education, health assessments, opportunities for physical activity, and other resources.

SCHA Vice President for Community Engagement Rozalynn Goodwin was surprised and excited last month when Rep. Collins told her he had already recruited 75 policy makers for the campaign. Just weeks before, it had been just an idea Goodwin shared casually at a meeting in which Collins was present.

“The idea was just one of several things I and other guests discussed during the SC Institute of Medicine and Public Health Fellows panel discussion on combatting obesity,” Goodwin explains. “Rep. Collins, who was in the audience, sent a tweet to confirm his participation. I had no idea he would immediately begin to recruit his colleagues to join him.

“This would never have taken off so quickly if he hadn’t stepped up to champion the idea,” she added. “And we appreciate the enthusiastic support of our partners to make this effort possible.”

“We want to set an example for all South Carolinians. Healthier food choices and more physical activity can prevent heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other diseases that rob South Carolinians of a quality life and cost all of us a lot of money,” Collins said. “As part of the challenge, more than 100 of South Carolina’s state lawmakers will be taking steps towards better health with the help of Fitbit. Fitbit’s track record with organizations of any size to create effective wellness programs made choosing its platform the obvious choice. Using their activity tracker Fitbit One, along with the software and services provided by Fitbit Wellness, we’ll be able to engage in some healthy competition, encourage each others’ progress, and stay active as a community.”

Amy McDonough, Vice President and General Manager of Fitbit Wellness commented, “We applaud the South Carolina Hospital Association and South Carolina State House for bringing awareness to the important issue of improving health and wellness, and are thrilled to be working with them to demonstrate how our corporate wellness platform can help not only individuals, but populations work towards health and fitness objectives. With Fitbit, South Carolina’s leaders can inspire both their constituents and communities to lead healthier, more active lives.”

According to the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, two out of every three adults in South Carolina are overweight or obese. And one out of every three children in our state is considered overweight or obese. Obesity increases the chances of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and arthritis. Weight is also a factor in 32 percent of the heart disease deaths each year. For these individuals and others, a healthy lifestyle is just what the doctor ordered.

Due to the continually growing prevalence of physical inactivity, its contribution to obesity, and overall negative influence on health, there is a shift in focus to behavior; from what we are (weight) to how we act (activity). The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies physical inactivity as less than 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous activity, over and above usual daily movement. Over 50% of Americans and almost 60% of South Carolinians do not meet this minimum recommendation for activity, which leads to a large portion of health care costs, disease, and death.

“These statistics are screaming at us that it’s time to take serious action,” explains Goodwin. Through SCHA’s Working Well initiative, Goodwin and her staff have been working closely with hospitals, municipalities, manufacturers, universities and state agencies to create workplaces where the healthy choice is the easy choice.

In a news conference today at the State House, Collins was surrounded by colleagues, as well as his partners in the effort, when he announced A Healthier Statehouse and encouraged lawmakers and staff to sign up and participate. All personal information gathered will be confidential; however overall averages for the entire group will be announced at the start of the challenge and during the last week of the session in June.

Collins hopes to see major improvements in the average group measures, such as frequency of physical activity, weight, blood pressure, waist size and body mass index.

So far 97 legislators have agreed to join him in the campaign, which is open to members of both the House and Senate, legislative staff members, and other state leaders. Former Governors Jim Hodges and Dick Riley, as well as Attorney General Alan Wilson and Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, also have signed up to participate.

For more information, visit: ahealthierstatehouse.org.

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