Efforts underway to improve the health of Alexander Co.

ALEXANDER COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - When it comes to health a new report finds the Heartland isn't doing so well. The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and John Wood Johnson Foundation ranked all the counties in all 50 states based on various factors that impact overall health.

In Missouri, Pemiscot County ranked the lowest in the whole state, coming in at 114. In Kentucky, Fulton County ranked 117 out of 120 counties. In Tennessee, Lake County came in at 82 out of 95 counties and in Illinois, Alexander County came in dead last at 102.

Despite the numbers, there are grassroots efforts underway to improve the health of Alexander County. One of those is at an after school program at the Delta Activity Center in Cairo.

Teen Reach/Gear Up Coordinator Quitman McBride Jr. preps for the afternoon meal. It's just one part of the program designed to help students be healthy and successful.

"We try to catch them where we can, can, impress them on doing some of the positive things we can do, they can do, to make their self healthier," Quitman said.

The program is free and open to students between the ages of 11 and 17 years old. McBride says during the week they teach life skills, healthy choices and make sure kids get moving with different games each afternoon.

"We talk to the students about their hygiene's, how to date properly without getting themselves pregnant or getting someone else pregnant," Quitman added.

McBride and his team are not alone. Patricia Moerhring, with the Southern Seven Health Department, is also working to improve the health of the county. She says the study's findings come as no surprise due to Alexander's County's high rate of poverty.

"In poverty you see higher obesity rates, you see higher incidents of heart disease, cancer perhaps, you see higher rates of smoking," Moerhing said.  "That's the number one cause of cancer."

Moerhing says the health department has implemented a strategic plan to help bring the numbers down. That includes a number of programs both in the schools and at homes.

"We're working with women and women's health," Moerhing said.  "If you change women's health maybe, you know, we change our men's health, you know, because our women basically do a lot of the cooking for the most part."

But Moerhing says to make a long term change takes a full community effort. Something McBride tries to do every afternoon, one student at a time.

Area citizens will have another opportunity to learn about important health issues at the upcoming Cairo Health and Resource Fair. That's June 16 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Cairo High School. The fair includes diabetes screenings, health screenings, immunizations, school physicals along with a number of vendors.

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