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Davis unveils Alabama Strategic Alliance for Health Program

Over the next five years, Dallas, Perry and Sumter counties will receive $3.9 million as part of the Alabama Strategic Alliance for Health Program that will promote physical activity and nutrition, reduce tobacco use and exposure, improve quality healthcare access, and help eliminate racial and ethnic disparities related to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

“Being in the Black Belt doesn’t mean you have to be behind the curve when it comes to public health,” Rep. Artur Davis said.

The ASAH program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, will expand from the initial three counties to include 21 counties across the state. Program manager Heidi Hataway said doctors could preach healthy lifestyle choices in a clinical setting all day long, but until these choices become available and affordable to the community, the prevalence of chronic diseases in the Black Belt would not change.

“This program is about building healthy communities in Alabama,” Hataway said. “We have a good amount of work to be done.”

Public Health Area 7, which includes Dallas, Perry, Sumter, Wilcox, Choctaw, Hale, Lowndes and Marengo counties, risk factors prevalence rates for obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension are higher than the statewide rates.

State health officer Dr. Donald E. Williamson said the only way to lower these rates is to implement behavior changes in communities, like taking high calorie foods with low nutritional values out of school vending machines and opening farmer’s markets that offer fresh fruits and vegetables. These changes will take more than 5 or 10 years, he said.

“They are generational changes,” Williamson said. “It’s not a single thing, and you don’t get this by preaching at people to get healthier.”

ASAH community coordinator Stacy Adams said the first year of the program would involve planning and assessing the needs of each community. She said lawmakers would not determine how the money was spent in the community. It would depend on the needs of the people.

“We want to get a snapshot of Dallas County,” Adams said. “To see where these resources can be best spent. It’s community driven.”

Davis warned the crowd that they would hear lots of talk out of Washington this summer about healthcare policy changes and insurance coverage. But Davis said until people change the way they live, through programs like ASAH, policy is irrelevant.

“If we want to change real outcomes on the ground in the short term, it will be cause concrete things are done in our communities,” Davis said.

Williamson said 1 in 3 children born after 2003 would develop diabetes. In the Black Belt, odds are even worse, he said.

“We’ve got to get serious on the prevention side,” Williamson said. “This is an important part of that commitment.”

Davis said it could start with simple things such as educating public school children on the dangers of chronic diseases. Little things often add up over time, he said.

“We have to tell people what you’re putting in your body doesn’t just effect your size, it effects your ability to lead a long and productive life,” Davis said.