As it nears its second anniversary, the Paris-Lamar County Health District’s Health4U program continues its work of combating obesity and the chronic diseases related to it in Lamar and Red River counties through education and community outreach.
Under the aegis of the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Community and Clinical Health Bridge Project, Health4U began operation in April of 2017.
“Government officials identified Lamar and Red River counties as among the top 14 most obese counties in the state of Texas,” said Sharmilla Franklin, health educator and nutritionist with Health4U. “The CCHB’s aim is to reduce the impact of obesity and related chronic diseases on the State of Texas by focusing on evidence-based programs and research-backed strategies that benefit the community.”
Franklin said the P-LCHD was chosen to participate in the program because of its infrastructure and its ability to accomplish a project like this. When the district agreed to begin the project, the state came back and asked if it could extend the program into Red River County, which has no health district of its own.
Health4U works with area physicians and other providers who refer patients with obesity issues to the program’s support groups and one-on-one weight loss and nutritional education. The program’s outreach includes dispersal of educational material through its participation in and sponsorship of local health-related events like health fairs and physical activities such as the Kids Marathon, the annual Turkey Trot, Main Street-Paris’ recent Mini-Golf Putt-Putt event and the National Trail Opening Day on the Trail de Paris.
“We also participate in the local school health advisory councils at most of the local schools,” Franklin said. “Health4U sponsors the Community Gardens located on the grounds at Paris Regional Medical Center, and my co-worker, Jess Crawford, and I speak and teach to other organizations like Lunch & Learn, PrimeTime and the local diabetes support group.”
As part of the Health4U educational program, the group holds free adult education classes. The six-week-long sessions include subjects like eating healthy on a budget, nutritional label reading, fun ways to incorporate physical activity into daily living and positive lifestyle changes.
Free Adult Health Education classes begin about every six weeks or so depending on the holiday schedule. Those interested in the classes can call to ask when the next session is to start and enroll by phone.
“We offer a group session format or a one-on-one format,” said Franklin. “It’s their choice.”
The classes, Franklin said, are open to anyone over the age of 18, and there is no income criteria attached to the program.
“It is absolutely free to anyone in the community from affluent to indigent,” she added.
Health4U has partnered with Lighten Up East Texas to encourage weight loss by staging competitions with cash and other prizes for those who lose weight during the duration of the contest. While Health 4 U does not provide assistance with purchasing or distributing food to its participants, it does provide incentives to eat healthy by awarding implements to those in the program to help make preparing and cooking healthy meals easier, along with the tools and strategies their clients need to attain a healthier lifestyle.
Another incentive that each class member receives is their own computerized wrist band, designed to help them track their physical activities and monitor their life signs.
Franklin said Lamar and Red River counties have a large population of impoverished residents, living on disability incomes and food stamps, and eating healthy can be a challenge for many.
“They can eat healthy or they can buy their medications,” she said. “If we can help someone lose weight, thereby cutting down the number of medications they have to take each day, that is a positive.”