Clemson University has received a five-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address obesity in three South Carolina counties.
The participating counties — Hampton, Lee and Marion — were selected by the CDC because of their designation as high-obesity. Forty percent of the counties’ populations are obese under CDC standards.
“We are being charged with working with local folks in each of these counties… building through the Clemson (Cooperative) Extension network to address obesity through what they call policy, environment and systems approaches,” Public Health Sciences associate professor Sarah Griffin said.
The CDC High-Obesity Program provides grants for locally driven health and nutrition initiatives specifically for counties with a 40 percent or greater obesity rate. Clemson has received more than $836,000 to fund the effort in its first year. The grant is meant to help the counties increase access to healthy foods, create safe places for physical exercise and help guide lifestyle changes in the community.
The goal is to improve access to healthy foods and increasing access to physical activity. The effort is a collaboration between the Clemson Extension and the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, an effort Griffin described as “unique.”
“We have a brand new program team called the Rural Health and Nutrition Program Team,” Director of Nutrition and Health Extension Programs Michelle Parisi said. “Our goal is to work with communities in South Carolina on disease prevention or disease self-management.”
Extension offices in the participating counties will have a health extension agent and a food safety/nutrition agent working on the program. The counties will administer the programs as they see fit. Clemson students from these counties will also have the opportunity to go back and work through summer internships and other opportunities, Griffin said.
“We may have one county that says, ‘because of timing we really want to jump right in and tackle some things around physical activity,’ and another county may say ‘we’ve just got this new farmers market with a new expanded voucher program and we want to start there,'” Griffin said. “We want to build up from that.”
Because the three participating counties also have high poverty rates, researchers will look at reducing the financial burden of implementing programs.
“We keep all of that in mind,” Griffin said. “And all of our strategies have an element of increasing access through making things affordable and easy to access for both the food nutrition aspect of the project and the physical activity aspect of the project.”
Parisi said the goal is to bring healthier food and produce to those regions rather than requiring residents to drive to stores in other counties.
“I think this project is going to have a big impact on these communities,” Griffin said. “This is a sizeable grant that we are shoveling all of the resources to these three counties. I think that it’s really going to make a difference and that we will ultimately see improved health and improved obesity rates in the counties that we are targeting.”