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County health could improve with activity

As physically fit counties go, Madison County wears its health well but more residents need to get off the couch.

Mary Currier, the state health officer, told a gathering of business leaders at a healthcare forum last week sponsored by the Madison County Business League that the county ranks seventh in the state in a compilation of health factors, mortality and other issues.

"It is one of the healthiest counties in the state," she said. "There are a lot of things in place. It's a healthy environment and has good access to care.

"But obesity needs to be worked on."

In a state sagging at the bottom of national obesity statistics, about 30 percent of Madison County residents are considered obese. They have body mass index of 30 or above, and a BMI of 30 means about 30 pounds overweight.

The rest of the state is about 35 percent obese while the national average is 26-27 percent, Currier said. "We have the highest couch potato ratio in the country," she said. "We really need to be better in that area."

Obesity can lead to a list of problems as long as a fast food restaurant menu. Heart disease, diabetes, a variety of cancers, hypertension, stroke and sleep apnea are among the other problems that come up as bellies grow out.

Employers can help their workers get into shape, Currier said. "The workplace is a wonderful place to set examples for being healthy."

Businesses benefit by having hale and hearty workers who show up for the job more, have improved morale and cost less in chronic disease care. Workers who feel better and are more energetic ensure greater productivity, Currier said.

Small changes in the office that can help are providing healthier options in breakroom vending machines and allowing the time that used to go to smoking breaks to go to walking for exercise, she said.

Murray Harber, the WebMD wellness coordinator for Mississippi, told the gathering at "The Pulse of Madison County" that businesses need to encourage health habits in workers since they spend one third of their time on the job.

Several companies in Madison County do a good job promoting wellness, he said, citing Levi's, BankPlus, Madison County Schools and the city of Ridgeland.

By Lucy Weber • lweber@mcherald.com • May 10, 2011

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