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The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Group aims to improve public health

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  • Hilary Dopfel believes there's nothing wrong with programs or special events aimed at encouraging people to live healthier.
    However, she would like to see a shift from organizations' emphasis on programming to policies encouraging long-term healthy living. Not only are policies easier to implement than organizing an event, they can promote new philosophies and bring about lasting change.
    As coordinator of the Healthy Harvey Coalition, Dopfel has seen the county already taking steps to put policies in place that will make local communities healthier places to live.
    "Harvey County is a fairly well-rounded community when it comes to wellness, fairly well aware of the importance of it," she said.
    Dopfel joined the Healthy Harvey Coalition in April. The group used to be focused on work site wellness but now has expanded to address overall community wellness, such as encouraging physical activity and good nutrition county-wide.
    Right now the coalition is using a grant to develop a plan of action for a healthier Harvey County, and then will be eligible for a three-year grant to help implement that plan.
    Dopfel said the coalition has narrowed down the plan to two possible themes: promoting access to healthy foods, such as through farmer's markets or community gardens, or promoting access to physical activity, such as biking and walking.
    The strategy is to start the project in Newton, then branch out to other communities in the county. The coalition would also like to partner with other groups in the community who may already be working on projects that tie into these themes.
    Dopfel is excited to see the progress the Healthy Harvey Coalition has made, especially since public health is an issue that's very close to her heart. Her grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer, having started smoking at a time when the dangers of smoking weren't widely known. Through that tragedy, she decided to pursue a master's degree in public health.
    "Seeing what he went through raised thoughts in my mind, 'How can I help prevent chronic diseases?'" she said.
    A leadership team for Health Harvey meets monthly to direct the coalition, but the coalition also has public meetings where anyone is invited to come to discuss the topic of health.
    The next meeting is at noon Aug. 7 in Newton Medical Center's Prairie Room. To RSVP, email HDopfel@harveycounty.com or call 283-1637.
     
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