Alexander City Winn Dixie store manager Chris Hall arranges the organic fruit at the Alexander City store Wednesday. | Cliff Willaims
Alexander City Winn Dixie store manager Chris Hall arranges the organic fruit at the Alexander City store Wednesday. | Cliff Willaims

Archived Story

Life changes could boost area’s health

Published 7:51pm Friday, August 15, 2014

Editor’s note: This is the first in a multi-part series on the health of our area. We welcome your feedback and ideas for future stories at

By Savannah Harrison

The Outlook 

Reports reveal that Alabama’s health could be improved on a statewide level, with the United Health Foundation’s 2013 Annual Report ranking Alabama as 47th out of 50 states polled for overall health.

“It looks like the country, as a whole, is trying to call more attention to health. What’s unfortunate for Alabama is we’re either 49th or 50th, or we’re No. 1,” said Susan Foy, marketing director of Russell Medical Center. “And either one is bad.”

Health issues that are most prevalent in the state – referred to as determinants in the annual report – included obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes, smoking, teenage pregnancy and low birth weight, poor mental and physical health days, and cardiovascular deaths.

Many of these issues saw Alabama ranked in the low to high 40s. And these findings are mirrored right here in Tallapoosa County, according to Russell Medical Center’s Community Health Needs Assessment and Implementation Plan, which is completed annually and aims to help “enhance the health and wellness of individuals living in (the) community.”

The document, found online at the medical center’s website, reveals that Alexander City’s and the county’s percentage of obesity and diabetes are both over the state and national averages. The same goes for adult smoking, teenage pregnancy, stroke and chronic lower respiratory disease.

Obesity among children is, in particular, a problem in the area, according to local pediatrician Dr. Billy Sellers, who stated that childhood obesity is closely linked with both adult obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Adult obesity is also associated with issues like hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“One of the issues that we are seeing now that we didn’t used to see as much is obesity,” said Sellers. “We’re seeing a lot more children who are overweight and seem to be either sedentary or close to sedentary. I think that’s probably the most important thing we’re seeing that’s new and, by new, I mean something we didn’t see as much of 20 or 25 years ago.”

Sellers added that anywhere from 25 to 30 percent of the children he sees are, while not morbidly obese, overweight for their age group.

Some health issues are either unavoidable or a product of genetics, but many of these determinants are brought about or exacerbated by certain lifestyle choices.

“I think a lot of health issues are associated with living in the South, and I think it starts in the kitchen,” said Dr. Michele Goldhagen, the medical director of the emergency department and chief of staff at Russell Medical Center. “Because we grew up watching mom cook dinner with butter and a lot of sauces… and we don’t eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as we should.”

Goldhagen said that the types of changes necessary for a healthier Alabama involve a shift in tradition and culture, which is often a difficult thing to stomach.

“We have to learn to grill and not bake or fry,” Goldhagen added. “You have to take that original family recipe and modify it for today’s standards.”

Though nutrition accounts for approximately 85 percent of maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle, according to AnyTime Fitness manager Shawna Woodruff, exercise is also vital.

It’s not always easy to know how or where to start the process of dieting and exercising, however — especially considering the lack of time and degree of responsibilities associated with modern times.

“To be honest, it is very difficult for people to exercise during the week when they’re working all day,” said Goldhagen.

She went on to list long hours and commitments to children’s extracurricular activities as reasons why many struggle with making time to workout and eat well. However, in spite of this, she urged adults “to find little tricks of the trade.”

And the community is making efforts of its own to help make this easier on an individual basis.

Take, for example, Winn-Dixie’s broad offering of alternative foods or the local gyms and their many health initiatives. There’s also proactive advice given by doctors and organizations like the Council for Prosperity Thru Health.

In the end, it’s all about learning those so-called “little tricks of the trade” and relying on local resources that will help achieve a better quality of living.

This series will offer more information about the various options afforded to Alexander City residents seeking the benefits of a healthy diet and active lifestyle.

After all, to borrow from Goldhagen, “The key to good health is to eat right and keep moving.”