HCF Releases In-depth Study Highlighting Health Disparities

Healthy Central Florida marked its one-year anniversary in March with the release of the State of Our Health, the first in-depth study of the physical, emotional, and nutritional health of residents in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville.  While the study contains bright spots, it documents the alarming health disparities amongst the three communities and underscores what is known, that where a person lives plays a role in their health and well-being.  The Executive Summary is online at www.healthycentralflorida.org

“For the first time in decades, children may face shorter life expectancies than their parents due to unhealthy lifestyles,” says Jill Hamilton Buss, executive director of Healthy Central Florida.  “This study, conducted by the University of Central Florida Institute for Social and Behavioral Sciences, not only establishes a baseline for Healthy Central Florida’s work, but also helps local leaders and policy-makers understand more about the urgent health priorities facing residents.”  The Executive Summary also discusses the role that policies, the built environment and the lack of access to healthy foods and healthy choices have on residents’ health.

Healthy Central Florida was launched a year ago by Florida Hospital and the Winter Park Health Foundation because of the escalating rates of chronic health conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Researchers looked at rates of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, smoking, stress and activity levels, nutrition and social cohesion and compared the information from these three communities with county, state and national data.  The findings revealed that more than half of residents are overweight or obese; a third or more have high blood pressure; and about one in four have high cholesterol.

The most alarming finding was Eatonville’s high rate of diabetes, affecting nearly one in four residents, more than double the national average and nearly triple that of its neighbors.

“The people of Eatonville suffer disproportionately from diabetes, hypertension and other chronic conditions that impact their health and the well-being of the community,” said Dr. Richard Pratley, senior faculty at the Translational Research Institute and medical director of the Florida Hospital Diabetes Institute.  “The reasons for this are not clear. What is clear is that there is an urgent need to address these issues.  A healthy lifestyle, with good nutrition, exercise and smoking cessation remains the foundation for the prevention and treatment of both diabetes and heart disease.”

Despite these challenges, when asked about social connections, a known protective factor for health, more than 50% of Eatonville residents said they were strongly connected to their neighbors and others living in the community, whereas Winter Park and Maitland responded at 32% and 35% respectively.

“This is not the first study to show that healthier people live in healthier environments. That’s why programs aimed solely at weight loss, targeting the individual and not the broader environment, are limited in their ability to create large-scale, lasting change.  A more effective approach is to focus on creating healthy environments.  Our goal is to make the healthy choice the easy choice in all environments and ultimately, to transform our community into the healthiest in the nation,” said Jill Hamilton Buss.

The study did reveal that most residents care deeply about their health – nearly 100% of respondents in every community share this concern. This is evidenced by the fact that nearly 70% of Maitland and Winter Park residents said they want to be more active than they currently are, and that more than 50% of Eatonville residents said the same thing.

“About two years ago, we began a conversation with our friends at Winter Park Memorial and Florida Hospital about creating a movement and engaging community leaders in this journey we now call Healthy Central Florida,” said Patricia Maddox, President & CEO of Winter Park Health Foundation.  “Our goal is to make sure that regardless of where you live, learn, work, worship or play in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville, it’s easier for you to be active, eat healthy, and in general, make healthy choices.”

Click here to read more about the findings and recommendations in the Executive Summary.

About Healthy Central Florida

Florida Hospital and the Winter Park Health Foundation recognized the alarmingly high rates of obesity, inactivity, smoking and mental health challenges facing residents in our communities. These problems drain precious limited resources from businesses, schools and hospitals and have a profound impact on the quality of life for children and adults in Central Florida. To create large and small-scale change and a “culture of well-being,” a coordinated community effort was needed.  Healthy Central Florida was founded to lead this effort.

Healthy Central Florida is a community-based partnership established to transform our community into the healthiest in the nation. Its aim is to get people moving more, eating healthier, feeling better, and enjoying a more vibrant, energized life.  Go to www.healthycentralflorida.org to learn more.