RIVERDALE -- Weber-Morgan Health Department held its first town meeting Thursday night to talk about a healthier community.
The meeting, held at Riverdale Elementary School, is part of a plan to address physical activity, nutrition, tobacco-free living and access to quality clinical services. In doing so, the health department is soliciting input and ideas from the public on how to make positive changes in their communities.
"We all know that we should be active, eat healthy and stay tobacco free, but we don't always do all of that. What we want to know is why, and what would actually prompt people to make those changes," said Weber-County Health Department community health education specialist, Rochelle Creager.
Before the meeting began, residents listed reasons why they did or did not live a healthy lifestyle. Some of the reasons for not exercising included being too tired, too busy or not having access to a safe place to exercise. Others said they didn't eat healthy foods because they are too expensive or too inconvenient to prepare. Residents also said they used tobacco products because they were addicted and weren't properly educated as children.
The top three chronic conditions -- heart disease, cancer and stroke -- account for more than half of all deaths in the state of Utah, said Creager. Almost half of all adults in the country have at least one chronic disease and a quarter of those have two or more.
"The good news is that many of these deaths are preventable by adopting a healthier lifestyle," she said. "Regular physical activity, a healthy diet and staying tobacco free go a long way toward reducing an individual's risk for developing a chronic disease. The bad news is that living a healthier lifestyle is often easier said than done."
Creager said 58.8 percent of Weber-Morgan residents are at an unhealthy weight and 29.5 percent are obese. In addition, one in five children in the county are reported to be overweight.
"If we can combat the obesity epidemic, we can prevent a lot of these chronic illnesses," she said.
Anna Guymon, Weber-Morgan Health Department's tobacco prevention specialist, said 230,000 Utahns currently use tobacco products, and 75 percent of those people want to quit. She said 90 percent of those who use these products started before the age of 19. Weber-Morgan county residents also have a higher tobacco use rate than the rest of the state, she said.
Guymon also talked about the dangers of second hand smoke and e-cigarettes.
"E-cigarettes are under-tested and under-regulated so you really don't know what's in them," she said.
After their presentations, Guymon and Creager brainstormed with residents on ways to improve health. Suggestions included safer places to exercise, providing maps with bike and walking trails, asking restaurants to provide fat and calorie counts on their menus, educating children early in life about the dangers of tobacco and substituting junk food for fresh, healthy foods.
"Our goal is to make healthy living an easy choice and it helps us to better help the community when we can listen your concerns and get an idea on how we can better help you," Creager said.