This post was written by Austin Anderson ’17
In the everyday pressures and demanding schedules we all face, we tend to take for granted some of the most important aspects of our lives, like access to a safe and healthy environment. The Madison County Rural Health Council (MCRHC) works to provide this essential service. The organization is dedicated to improving the health of Madison County residents through fostering links between healthcare providers, raising awareness about health issues, and increasing access to healthcare and healthy opportunities for the public. Founded only three years ago, the MCRHC developed and published a Community Health Assessment (CHA)/Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) in 2013. The organization also initiated a Live Well Committee in Madison County to implement programs designed to increase the availability of nutritious food sources and inspire higher levels of physical activity.
This summer the organization is working on producing an updated 2017-2018 CHA/CHIP involving the collaboration between community partners and healthcare providers. Colorectal cancer screening and healthy weights will be the two prevention priorities outlined in the health assessment; obesity constitutes one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States, while colon cancer ranks third among cancer deaths despite being preventable. The final report will address a Madison County action plan with strategies to decrease obesity and colorectal cancer levels, especially within communities where these health disparities are greatest.
My role in this project will be to update the 2009 Obesity and Overweight in Madison County Report to help guide the development of the healthy weights priority plan in the 2017-2018 CHA/CHIP. Aside from gathering recent statistics on overweight and obesity levels in New York State and Madison County, I research interventions that have been proven or have the potential to work well with the community’s demographics. I will present this information at Healthy Weight Stakeholder meetings to inform community members (hospitals, health care providers, employers, schools, and community centers) why they should be invested in improving the health of Madison County residents. I have also been able to attend and give input during Live Well Committee meetings and Colorectal Cancer Stakeholder meetings. Participating in these groups has enabled me to gain a strong involvement in these community projects. So far, I have been tasked with searching for a colorectal cancer spokesperson from Colgate University and helping create a Monday Mile route for the Live Well Committee in Madison County.
As a biology major, interested in pursuing a career in health outside the realm of medical school, I was drawn to the rural health council as an opportunity to experience the field of public health. Sifting through the large amount of available information to find specific data is challenging, but through the process I have discovered the depth of resources needed to evaluate any aspect of a community’s health. Being able to invest different community perspectives in a single goal or plan is another struggle of public health I am experiencing for the first time. Despite these challenges, it is rewarding to know your work is going towards benefiting a large portion of the community. Being able to interact with so many different people and organizations is one of my favorite aspects of working with the MCRHC, and it has given me a better understanding and appreciation of the community that I am a part of. I am looking forward to continuing my work on healthy weights and colorectal cancer, as well as becoming involved in other intersecting community projects.