Cabarrus County, North Carolina(Partner: National Association of County and City Health Officials)
The Childhood Obesity Prevention Partnership (COPP), a task force of Healthy Cabarrus, will reduce the childhood obesity epidemic by working with community partners to improve nutrition and increase physical activity through policy and environmental change.
Cabarrus County is the 12th largest county in North Carolina (out of 100 counties) with a population of 168,740. Its racial/ethnic distribution is 80.6 percent white, 14.5 percent African American, 2.3 percent other, and 1.5 percent Asian. Eight percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino.
Chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and cancer, are the major causes of death and disability in Cabarrus County. Obesity is a major contributing factor, particularly for heart disease and stroke, and has thus become a major public health problem. Of particular concern is the rise in obesity among children and young adults. In fact, the 2008 Cabarrus Community Needs Assessment key informants identified obesity as the most pressing health problem in the community and the number one issue requiring immediate attention. In 2008, 48.4 percent of youth ages 5 to 11 were overweight and/or obese, 40.4 percent for ages 2 to 18, and 37.4 percent for ages 2 to 4.
Cabarrus County has experienced increasing poverty over the past decade. Families with income below the poverty level doubled 4.8 percent in 2000 to 8.4 percent in 2006 and the percentage of residents receiving food stamps nearly tripled. This is due primarily to the collapse of Cabarrus County's manufacturing industry over the past decade. The most notable examples of this include Phillip Morris in 2009 and Pillowtex in 2003. Pillowtex eliminated 4,300 local jobs that resulted in the largest permanent layoff of workers in North Carolina's history. Phillip Morris closed in July 2009, leaving 2,100 residents unemployed and further increasing an unemployment rate that has more than doubled to 11.4 percent in the past two years. This has implications for reaching our vision on multiple levels. If individuals are focused on meeting basic necessities, it is difficult to convince them of the need to make healthy lifestyle changes. On a systems level, if local government and business industries are struggling to meet financial goals, it is difficult for them to allocate funds towards costs associated with policy and environmental changes.
On a positive note, Cabarrus County is now home to the North Carolina Research Campus, a private-public venture dedicated to fostering advancements in the fields of biotechnology, nutrition, and health and whose vision is to become the world's epicenter of nutrition and disease research. Unprecedented in its scale and collaboration, the Research Campus tenants include eight North Carolina universities in addition to leading corporations from around the world. This local asset provides tremendous opportunity for the community and will serve as a significant partner for COPP in the years to come.
COPP is currently working on a project to train healthcare professionals as advocates in the fight against childhood obesity. Once trained, they will work with both local school systems to improve policies around nutrition and physical activity. Over the past year, COPP has worked within child care centers to implement the NAP SACC program, collaborated with the Kannapolis Parks and Recreation Department to develop a master plan for seven miles of the Irish Buffalo Creek Greenway, and implemented a community-wide social marketing campaign using North Carolina’s Eat Smart Move More brand.