(Jill Bock, Staff)
LILBOURN - Good health begins one step at a time.
Local health officials believe they are off on the right foot with new programs and especially with two new walking tracks to promote a healthy lifestyle for New Madrid County residents. The walking trails were formally dedicated in ceremonies here and at Gideon on Monday.
Funded through a grant totaling $259,759 for New Madrid County from the Missouri Foundation for Health, a statewide initiative designed to promote healthy and active communities, the walking trails and programs are part of a "strategy to reduce obesity in Missouri," explained Amy Stringer Hessel, program officer for the Foundation.
According to Hessel, over 66 percent of all adults are overweight or obese. "And our kids are following in their footsteps," she continued. "We need to have access to opportunities for healthy lifestyles."
Providing those opportunities is what a coalition of community groups, the New Madrid County R-1 School system, five African-American churches and the New Madrid County Health Department have sought to do. The Healthy and Active Bootheel Communities has created a variety of programs explained Ted Maltbia, who serves as a volunteer.
The Health Department, working with fourth and fifth graders in the R-1 School District, encourages youth to become more active through a wellness program. They provide funding to enhance physical education classes, promote exercise and walking, and even provided pedometers for youngsters so they can track how much they walk.
The New Madrid County Extension has provided a health educator who visits local churches. She has given cooking classes, discussed healthy eating, demonstrated exercises and covered problems brought on by being overweight.
Janie Dees, the program's director, attributed much of the success to Maltbia and his wife, Pat, who serve as assistant director. Also she praised New Madrid County Health Department Administrator Dr. Charles Baker, who worked with the Maltbias to initiate the program, and city officials who supported efforts to add the walking tracks to their communities as well as the school officials' involvement.
Prior to the ribbon cutting officially opening Lilbourn's 1,200-foot long walking track which winds its way through the city park, Lilbourn Mayor Dale Ray noted since it was completed earlier this month he has seen many people walking the path.
Maltbia agreed. Pointing to individuals attending Monday's ceremonies in various brightly colored T-shirts, he noted the churches have organized walking groups to take advantage of the newly completed walking trail.
"Participation has been really good," he said. "The exercise is helping. People are getting around better. This is a blessing."