COLUMBIA — If you want to know, just ask.
That's the philosophy behind an effort by Boone County public health leaders to find out what keeps people from eating healthy food and getting enough exercise.
A survey available on the city of Columbia's Web site and distributed by a variety of Columbia and Boone County community organizations encourages residents to answer 24 questions about food choices and exercise habits.
The Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services intends to use the results as part of a three-year effort to develop a plan that addresses obesity issues in Boone County.
According to a 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate among adult Missourians was 27.5 percent. Among Missouri children, ages 10 to 17, the National Initiative for Children's Health Care Quality indicates an obesity rate of 31 percent.
The survey, drawn up by MU Extension staff of the Healthy Lifestyle Initiative, has made reaching out to many different facets of the community a priority. The first phase of the Health Department's effort involved sending a different survey to 60 community organizations regarding the programs they offered in 2008. The 24-question survey is the second phase of the collaboration. The final phase will involve sending the survey results to community partners and local government representatives.
The Columbia Housing Authority, American Heart Association and Family Health Center are among organizations currently distributing the survey. The Health Department is also working with local school districts to get their involvement.
"Partnerships are critical so that we can be aware what one another is doing," said Vera Massey, co-county program director with the Healthy Lifestyle Initiative.
Massey said she hopes results will help the initiative link MU Extension resources where needs and interests exist in the community. The extension's interest in the survey takes a holistic approach. "It's about creating healthier communities ... really, all people can benefit from having a healthier community," Massey said.
Massey described policy and environmental factors as some of the greatest obstacles to creating healthier lifestyles and communities.
"Possibly programs aren't the answer but policy change may be needed to be made," said Maureen Coy, health educator with the Columbia Department of Public Health and Human Services. She mentioned menu labeling and property tax reductions for gardening as examples of policy changes.
Regarding the survey, Coy said: "It's really important to gather this data because so much of our health care costs today are a result of our lifestyle."