MARSHALL - Weight management and exercise were two of the biggest health-related concerns local residents identified on a community health survey this summer, said supporters of a Marshall health initiative. Now that the results are in, the challenge will be for community members to develop a plan to address them.
The My Marshall grassroots group kicked off a Marshall area community health initiative in July, with a survey of stakeholders including Marshall area residents and businesses. On Tuesday morning, stakeholders met at the Marshall-Lyon County Library to hear the survey results and offer some direction for the health initiative.
"The results are very promising," said Stacy Frost, co-chairperson of the My Marshall group and director of development at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Keecha Harris of KHA, Inc., the company that conducted the surveys, presented some highlights of the results. Harris said a total of 31 local employers responded to the survey. All the responders were interested in supporting employee wellness programs, especially for weight management. Of the survey responders, 58 percent said they were already using workplace wellness programs, and 75 percent said they had partnered with other organizations to help support community health.
Interviews conducted this summer also showed Marshall employers were interested in tackling risk factors for health, especially obesity and mental health concerns, Harris said. Other concerns included encouraging physical activity, reaching out to diverse groups of people and even Minnesota's climate.
"We need to be able to do think about what are we going to do in the wintertime?" Harris said.
"We had a really rich and broad swath" of survey respondents, Harris said. However, she noted that responses focused mainly on exercise. The community health initiative shouldn't overlook the importance of healthy eating, she said.
Promoting healthy living in Marshall is something that can have far-reaching benefits, said Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes. A healthy workforce is one of the factors Lyon County will need if it wants to maintain a growing population, he said. Lyon County also has room for improvement in terms of community health, said Tom Bolin of the Marshall Area YMCA.
"We rank 75th out of 84 ranked counties in Minnesota for physical activity," Bolin said. The county's rates for smoking and obesity are also higher than the national average, he said.
Speakers at Tuesday's meeting said collaboration will be important as the community health initiative goes forward. The My Marshall grassroots group is embarking on the health initiative with the help of a wide range of community partners, including local businesses and educators, the city of Marshall, organizations like the YMCA and United Way of Southwest Minnesota, and area health care providers. Funding and guidance from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota have also helped make the initiative possible.
Stakeholders were asked what they would like to see the health initiative do to help people achieve a healthy weight, as well as what kinds of community resources or partnerships could be used to promote better health. Some of the ideas they shared included public education and setting community-wide health goals and making use of existing resources like local trails and community gardens.
Frost said the next steps for the health initiative will be to develop more specific goals and plans for the program, as well as ways to evaluate them. She said the group's focus will be more on a broad level, seeking policy and environment changes that can help people live healthier lives.
Another community health initiative meeting is planned for Oct. 15, Frost said.