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updated: 8/9/2012 5:53 PM

McHenry, Kendall counties get health grants

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Smoke-free parks, doughnut-free work meetings and school gymnasiums open to the community?

Those are just some of the ideas that public health departments in McHenry and Kendall counties hope to promote as part of a comprehensive approach to health funded by "We Choose Health" grant money awarded this week by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

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McHenry County will receive nearly $300,000, while Kendall County will receive about $111,000 out of almost $3.5 million the state health department is awarding to 20 health departments and one medical center, IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said. Only counties with less than 500,000 residents could apply for the four-year grants, which in turn came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Community Transformation Grants. There were 35 applications, she said.

"We Choose Health" is all about coming up with ways for local entities -- including schools, park districts, local organizations and municipalities -- to promote healthy environments that encourages healthy living, and in turn reduce the rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, Arnold said.

"It's not something that state or local health department can do on their own. It's going to take everybody working together to make it work," she said. "We're looking at ways to combat problems like obesity in ways that are sustainable, not just short-term fixes."

Meaghan Hack, health promotion coordinator for the McHenry County Department of Public Health, said some of the grant money will be used to expand the coordinated school health program, in which only a handful of schools participate. The program looks at how to make schools healthier with strategies like serving more nutritious lunches and expanding physical activity among students, Hack said.

Also, the health department will work on encouraging municipalities to implement smoke-free parks, make their streets more friendly to bicycles and pedestrians, allow residents to use public buildings after hours for health-related activities, and promote safe walking and biking routes to school for children, she said.

"Nationally, seven out of 10 deaths are due to chronic disease. That's a really high percentage," she said.

RaeAnn VanGundy, information grants officer for the Kendall County Health Department, said the grant money will be used to promote worksite wellness and smoke-free multihousing units.

The first target will be the county health department itself, she said, with initiatives like promoting exercise, healthier foods in vending machines and work meetings, VanGundy said. "We're doing a worksite wellness program and now we're feeding them doughnuts? We'll be focusing on multigrain breads and fruit. If we're really wanting to become healthy, we need to take a holistic view," she said.

The hope is to expand the worksite wellness program to other county buildings, community agencies and corporations with 50 employees or fewer, VanGundy said.

The county health department will also prompt smoke-free multiunit housing by working with the Kendall County Housing Authority in reaching out to landlords. VanGundy said she expects some resistance, but the goal is to work cooperatively and find happy mediums when possible.

"This grant just opened so many doors for us. It's very exciting," she said.

For details, call Hack at (815) 459-5151 or VanGundy at (630) 553-9100.

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