According to a 2012 snapshot, Cherokee County ranks 174th in health outcomes among Texas' 221 counties, but a health initiative launched last fall will help residents improve this rank by encouraging them to embrace healthier life-styles.

Fit County Cherokee, launched Sept. 1, offers resources and food for thought as individuals learn a healthier way of living.

“The whole mission is to keep people healthy (through lifestyle change) so they don't have to go to the doctor so much,” said Allison Hale, the executive director of H.O.P.E. who sits on the Fit County steering committee.

Because her organization helps individuals in need throughout the county, Hale sees how clients focus primarily on trying to keep their heads above water, and how their health sometimes takes a back seat to more pressing issues, like providing for families.

The Fit County program helps promote “a healthier lifestyle early on,” she said. “

And inspiring people to do (embrace a healthier lifestyle) is definitely a positive thing. We want to help raise awareness of the resources out there in Cherokee County that can help people” live more healthily, she said.

In Cherokee County, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps reports that of overall 48,473 population in 2012, 11 percent of individuals ages 20 and older were diagnosed diabetic, slightly higher than the statewide figure of nine percent.

Thirty-three percent of Cherokee County adults younger than 65 have no health insurance, slightly higher than the state figure of 31 percent.

In Cherokee County 26 percent of the population couldn't afford a doctor visit because of cost, versus a 19 percent state average.

Adult obesity was higher in Cherokee County, at 33 percent of the population, compared to a national benchmark of 25 percent and statewide, 29 percent.

There’s also this fact: Approximately 30 percent of the local population aged 20 and older reported being physically inactive, compared to 21 percent nationally and 25 percent statewide.

The website also addresses the physical environment of Cherokee County as it looks at businesses where residents purchase their food.

Three-quarters of the local population has access to healthy food, compared to 62 percent statewide, and only 2 percent of county residents have limited access to a grocery store or market that sells food, much lower than the state figure of 12 percent.

However, of the Cherokee County eateries, 62 percent are fast food establishments, compared to 53 percent statewide.

What does this mean?

By choosing a healthier lifestyle, a person will experience a “decreased risk of chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and certain cancers, decreased risk of overweight and obesity, and a decreased risk of micronutrient deficiencies,” according to the website.

Within the past year, entities like the Cherokee County Extension Office, the Alto Economic Development Corpora-tion and Jacksonville's Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church have addressed the issue of healthier lifestyles by offering sensible ways to shed weight through positive lifestyle change and by providing health screenings so that people can be more proactive in leading healthier lives.

“Collaboration is always effective,” said Father Mark Kusmirek, the pastor of the Jacksonville Catholic church who is part of Fit County Cherokee's steering committee.

By providing these resources to county residents, it brings home the fact that “health is not only important for the individual, but for the community,” he said.

“Good health helps people work more effectively … and it decreases the need or medical care brought about by unhealthy eating habits and lifestyle,” he said. “If we im-prove those, then we cut down the medical costs, which helps community use financial resources more effectively.”

Fit County Cherokee operates a website,, which serves as a clearing house of information, while the group's Facebook page (listed as FitCOUNTY Cherokee) shares health-related links and offers encouraging insights to readers.

The group also has planned an April 6 “Day in the Park,” from 9 a.m. to noon at Nichols Green Park in Jacksonville.

“It'll be like a meet and greet session,” said Hale.

“We want to get the name out and let people know we're around, and we want to provide information on how to lead a healthier lifestyle.”

According to the group's Facebook page, the event features health and wellness focused activities, like how to grow a container garden or ride a bicycle safely, as well as address ways to eat healthier.

A yoga demonstration is also planned.

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