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New grant aimed at reducing health risks

PLATTSBURGH - Karen Derusha knows some startling statistics. For example, one in three children in the U.S. are overweight or obese. As the principal public health educator for the Clinton County Health Department, Derusha is working to change that.

CCHD received the Comprehensive School Health Wellness Policies Grant in July, to fund the Healthy Schools NY program.

The grant will benefit Clinton, Franklin, Essex and Hamilton counties, "to help schools develop comprehensive health and wellness policies in the areas of tobacco, physical activity, and nutrition," Derusha explained.

She has already begun to work with Northern Adirondack Central and Peru Central in Clinton County; AuSable Valley School in Essex County; Malone Central in Franklin County; and are hoping to begin work with Wells Central School in Hamilton County.

"What we do is we go in and take a look at the policies they have now and try to see what we can do to make those policies stronger," said Derusha. "We've seen the obesity rate in children, as well as adults, in this country rising and that's happening in New York State, just like everywhere else. So we want to address that."

In terms of physical activity, although it is a state mandate to meet certain requirements, Derusha said some schools are unable to do so.

"With everything else they've got do and staffing and budget issues that come into play with that," she said. "So it can be difficult."

Derusha said some mini-grants should be available for the schools to help with these types of issues.

The overall goal of the program is chronic disease prevention - changing the habits while the students are still young, to avoid serious health issues in the future.

"We know that things like heart disease and stroke and cancer and diabetes ... they're all linked to lack of physical activity, poor nutrition and tobacco use," explained Derusha. "If we can eliminate those major risk factors, we would see an 80 percent decrease in heart disease, 80 percent decrease in stroke, 80 percent decrease in type II diabetes, and a 40 percent decrease in cancer."

However, some of the health problems are already being seen in youngsters.

"We're starting to see type II diabetes, which used to only be seen in adults, we're starting to see that in young people now," she said. "So even though there are medications, that's not the way we want to see people going at such a young age."

Schools were contacted by CCHD to complete a survey. Derusha said the current schools working with the program were chosen by that survey, but all schools have the option to take part.

For more information, contact Derusha at 565-4993.

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