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Extending Health Across The State

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When two Halifax County churches decided to build a community garden, two obstacles stood in their way: They had no water source, and they had no money for equipment, seeds or other supplies.

But with a grant from NC State Extension’s new Health Matters program and expertise from Area Horticulture Agent Victoria Neff, the churches’ garden now provides produce to over 350 families.

The garden is one of 60 wide-ranging projects by four Health Matters associates and their 110 community partners last year to increase access to healthy food and physical activity.

“Oftentimes there’s a misconception that living a healthy lifestyle is just about individual choice, but what we often find in low-income and rural communities is that choices aren’t even there,” said Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, one of the principal investigators.

Funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Matters works in four counties where more than 40 percent of adults are obese. But individuals’ weight loss won’t be the measure of the project’s success.

Instead, Haynes-Maslow and fellow principal investigator Annie Hardison-Moody, both assistant professors with the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences, say that Health Matters will be successful if it strengthens ties between Extension and other groups to help overcome health-related disparities.

In designing the project, the researchers worked in partnership with faculty members from NC State’s departments of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management and Sociology and Anthropology.

Rooted deeply in social and economic inequities such as community infrastructure and job scarcity, the disparities that affect people’s health can’t be resolved overnight, Haynes-Maslow says. But Health Matters helps communities take steps in the right direction.