Lowndes life expectancy: Citizens can take steps toward improving health outcomes

Published 12:56 pm Thursday, February 16, 2023

With an average life expectancy at around age 70, Lowndes County citizens experience shorter life expectancies than nearly 96% of all other Alabama counties; however, experts agree citizens can take steps to improve those outcomes.

Katie Funderburk, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) program coordinator with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System said while many chronic disease states are influenced by genetics and the environment in which people live, such as areas with limited access to healthcare and healthy foods, behavior changes can work toward improving quality of life, decreasing risk of chronic disease, and lessening the severity of existing conditions.

“Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol are two major [behavior changes which help], but from a nutrition and physical activity standpoint — small changes can add up and make a big difference,” Funderburk said. “I encourage people to start where they can and keep goals small at first.”

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One change may include replacing sugary sodas, fruit drinks or tea with water, Funderburk notes. Even switching one soda a day for water can help.

With only one grocery store in the county, the area is considered a food desert. But Funderburk said residents can still achieve nutritional goals by utilizing canned or frozen foods and also by growing their own produce or partnering with neighbors in a community garden.

“If you don’t currently eat many vegetables, set a goal to eat at least one vegetable per day next week,” Funderburk said. “Canned and frozen vegetables are nutritious options, so this goal can still be met if it’s not easy to access fresh produce. Growing an herb garden along with your own tomato and pepper plants is a nice way to have access to fresh produce when it’s difficult to make it to the store.”

Funderburk notes that activity, simply moving more, improves a person’s overall health. By taking breaks, walks, or scheduling routine exercise regimens, citizens can see progress toward better health.

“If you spend most of your time sedentary (sitting), take one to three ten-minute walks each day and build up your ability to go longer,” Funderburk said. “Lifestyle changes can feel overwhelming when you think about everything needing to change all at once. I encourage people to start small and partner with a friend or family member.”

Health Services Inc. (HSI) owns and operates Hayneville Family Care and the Hayneville Wellness Center and partners with The Wellness Coalition in trying to get community members moving and exercising.

Ebony Evans, H.I.S. marketing director, said Lowndes County residents can receive medical care services for the whole family, including preventative care, treatment for chronic illness, as well as access to dental services, optometry, obstetrics and gynecological services, and behavioral services for all ages. Citizens who are uninsured or underinsured still have access to services, she explained.

Through the Wellness Coalition partnership, community members, citizens can gain help with transportation and case management for chronic illness.

The Hayneville Wellness Center provides one another option for helping citizens increase activity. Residents can subscribe to services which include a personal trainer and exercise classes.

The Lowndes County Extension Office conducts training and provides information to educate individuals and groups about nutrition, healthy living, gardening, diabetes management and a host of other classes for learning to improve health outcomes.

According to Ozelle Hubert, Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce president and executive director, all residents can improve life expectancy outcomes by becoming involved in efforts to bring more health care options to the area.

“The average person, everyone, can come get involved with the healthcare initiative,” Hubert said. “As part of the Chamber, we can form a community coalition.”

Hubert added that grants are available to help with forming a healthcare authority, which once formed could develop a rural health clinic, dialysis center, and ambulance service.

“Grants can be applied for under the Chamber because we are a nonprofit,” Hubert said. “People can get involved with the chamber to form community health care improvement services. They can also attend town council or county commission meetings to urge elected officials to join healthcare authority initiatives.”

For more information about healthcare initiatives, contact Hubert at (251) 387-0357.

To learn about Extension Office programs, call 9334) 548-2315.

To explore Hayneville Family Care or Hayneville Wellness Center services, visit healthservicesinc.org.

 

Editor’s note: This report is the fourth of a four-part series of articles highlighting lowered life expectancy rates in Lowndes County. Part 1 revealed factors which contribute to lower-than-average lifespans in Lowndes County. Part 2 outlined what local government agencies and organizations can do to reverse this trend. Part 3 explored childhood food insecurity and residents can gain access to healthy food options. Check out the March 2 edition of The Lowndes Signal for the last part of the series, an opinion piece tying all parts together.