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DeKalb County improves in health, wellness rankings

DeKALB – DeKalb resident Jackie Brown has lost more than 90 pounds since giving birth to her son in July 2011.

Brown credits Kishwaukee YMCA, 2500 W. Bethany Road, Sycamore, for teaching her how to be healthy through the Live Healthy Team Challenge. The eight-week fitness program puts YMCA members into teams and offers weekly exercise workouts and education on nutrition and health at Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb.

“I’ve helped others lose weight through motivation and inspiration,” said Brown who writes about her quest to live healthy on her blog, “Taking the class motivates me.”

The recent efforts launched by Kishwaukee YMCA and other community health organizations may help explain DeKalb County’s improved rankings in an annual report by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a national nonprofit organization that collects data from all 50 states and categorizes the counties in each state while detailing a variety of health factors.

County Health Rankings and Roadmaps ranks counties in two ways. DeKalb County ranked 10th in the state in the category of health outcomes, which looks at length and quality of life. The county also ranked 26th in the state in the category of health factors, which considers health behaviors, clinical care, physical environment and social and economic factors.

These rankings are better than last year’s, which showed DeKalb County was 14th in health outcomes and 36th in health factors.

The 2014 report uses data from sources including the National Center for Health Statistics and Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Social and economic factors make up 40 percent of a county’s health factors score.

Jane Lux, DeKalb County Health Department public health administrator, said her staff looks at this data each year to determine what areas need improvement.

The rankings also show that in a sample size of 303 people in DeKalb County, 20 percent of those people smoke. That worries Lux.

“Smoking remains the main cause of preventable death in the U.S.,” she said. “If we can reduce that, that would have a huge impact on health.”

The county health department promotes Illinois Tobacco Quitline, a free resource in which certified counselors help people quit smoking. The department also offers classes on quitting, has public health media campaigns and promotes policies that prevent tobacco use, Lux said.

YMCA officials credit their recent efforts that are helping locals become healthier. In January 2013, they began offering the majority of their classes to members for free, said Heather Eade, Kishwaukee YMCA marketing and communications director.

Live Healthy DeKalb County, an initiative coordinated with area school districts, park districts and health organizations, also promotes connectivity to health in the area, said Kara Gallagher, Kishwaukee YMCA director of strategic health initiatives.

“We’re trying to help make the healthy choice the easy choice,” Gallagher said.

DeKalb resident Jennifer Lavoie is learning that through Live Healthy Team Challenge. She decided to participate in the program to live healthier. Lavoie said her father died at the age of 68 of heart disease.

Lavoie was exercising using a fitness ball Tuesday at Kishwaukee YMCA. She said she prefers Pilates, yoga and fitness walking sticks.

Live Healthy Team Challenge shows participants a different method of exercise each session.

“It’s good to try new things you wouldn’t have thought you’d like,” Lavoie said. “This helps people find what they love by giving them variety.”

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