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Building a healthy hometown: Local group looking to win competition, improve quality of life


Tim Pratt



City officials in November formed a committee of local business leaders, medical experts and other community members to enter Starkville in the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation''s "Healthy Hometown" competition against other municipalities from around the state. 


The group met Thursday and already has a number of ideas to make Starkville''s case stronger in the Healthy Hometown competition, but also to improve the quality of life for city residents and Mississippi State University students. 


Oktibbeha County Hospital, which already offers free tobacco-cessation programs, is well-represented on the group''s medical subcommittee. One idea the medical subcommittee offered is a program tentatively called "Steps on Saturday," during which the hospital would provide pedometers at locations around the city so walkers can keep track of the distance they have covered.  


The Steps on Saturday idea is still in the conceptual phase, but Eddie Myles, who works in the hospital''s Healthplex, said the pedometers could be checked out at locations where people already excercise, like tracks, paths and even in Thad Cochrane Research, Technology and Economic Development Park, which contains a one-mile loop used frequently by walkers and joggers. Hospital employees also will have the opportunity to keep track of their steps at work.  


"People are doing this already, so let''s go ahead and document it ..." Myles said.  


The goal is to begin the Steps on Saturday program by February or March.  


"We hope we''ll inspire people to begin walking throughout the rest of the week," Myles said. 


The hospital also is encouraging exercise and healthy eating among employees, and will begin a more nutritious "blue-plate" lunch special, dietitian Kelly White said.  


As part of the Healthy Hometown competition, the committee will compile an extensive report on the city''s efforts to better residents'' quality of life. The Board of Aldermen already has taken efforts to build more multi-use paths, bicycle lanes and sidewalks in the city, and more projects are in the works.  


Ron Cossman, a member of Starkville In Motion and the Healthy Hometown Committee, suggested the city might want to look at passing ordinances to help protect an increased number of cyclists and walkers. The city and Mississippi State continue to grow and with that growth comes more people who ride bikes on city streets.  


One option would be to require cyclists to wear helmets, which would mean a new city ordinance or an amendment to an old one.  


"We''re going to be putting a lot of people out on our streets, hopefully, so we have to take steps to protect them," Cossman said.  


He also suggested the city look at traffic calming patterns, like roundabouts.  


The committee Thursday discussed several other possible initiatives, such as encouraging restaurants and stores to offer healthier foods. 


The Blue Cross & Blue Shield Foundation will award four grants as part of the competition. Municipalities with fewer than 5,000 residents are in one category, towns with 5,001-14,999 people are in another, and large municipalities, which consist of 15,000 people or more, are in a third category. 


A municipality from each of the three categories will receive a $25,000 grant from the Foundation to improve the municipality''s health and wellness culture. One municipality will be designated as "The Healthiest Town in Mississippi" and will be awarded a $50,000 grant. A town of any size may receive this designation. 


The Foundation will select the winners and the recipients will be announced at the Summer Mississippi Municipal League Conference, scheduled for June 26-July 1, 2010, in Biloxi.




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Reader Comments

Article Comment JFJ commented at 12/12/2009 1:30:00 PM:

Bicycle helmet ordinance? Do the City fathers intend being City nannies too?


Article Comment S.Williams commented at 12/13/2009 8:34:00 AM:

Encouraging to see Starkville promoting a "healthy atmosphere" for its residents. Mississippi lags behind many other states in health promotion. Changing the mindset of people is never easy but neccessary in the health of a community. Smoking and obesity have been the downfall of Mississippi as well as other states drastically in the last two decades. In the 60's obesity did not exist. Fast food, video games and a less than active society has created a dangerous health demographic. Young children in Mississippi are developing diabetes in large numbers.Hopefully, state money can be used to promote health in every community in Mississippi. Great job Starkville!
Destin Florida


Article Comment JFJ commented at 12/14/2009 3:23:00 PM:

"In the 60's obesity did not exist".

But forced bicycle helmet use has the effect of discouraging cycling.


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