Johnston County is trying to combat two of its biggest health threats: obesity and diabetes.
The Public Health Department will hold its fourth annual Walk for Health Saturday, April 5, on the Buffalo Creek Greenway in Smithfield. Everyone is encouraged to walk, including those who might not normally exercise, said Kimetha Fulwood, an education specialist with the health department.
Fulwood said people can walk at their own pace. Health department staff will give out snacks and water halfway through and stand at every half a mile to help anyone who might be struggling.
The walk is part of Johnston County’s health action plan, said Tierra Taylor, another education specialist with the health department. “We wanted to increase opportunities for exercise in the community by fostering environments for physical activity,” she said.
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Johnston’s most recent health report, released in 2012, lists obesity and then diabetes as the county’s two biggest health threats.
In 2010, the most recent year for which numbers are available, county’s leading cause of death was heart disease. For every 100,000 people, 172.3 died of heart disease and 160.5 died of cancer. The next cause was far less often: 34.3 people died of chronic lower respiratory diseases.
For adults, 70.4 percent were obese or overweight in 2010. That’s down slightly from the 72 percent in 2009, but still far above the state average of 65.3 percent.
Obesity can lead to diabetes. In 2010, 15.5 percent of all Johnstonians were diagnosed with diabetes, up from 8.1 percent in 2009.
Fulwood hopes the walk can help improve those numbers. “Walking is something fairly easy that most people can do,” she said.
The benefits include lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Walking can also help manage diabetes and lower weight.
Once people go on the Walk for Health, Fulwood hopes they will see how good the exercise can be and start walking on their own.
The event is free. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m., and the walk, beginning with stretching, is from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., starting in the parking lot at Smithfield Community Park. Walkers, if they choose, can go all the way to the end of the greenway in downtown Smithfield and then back, for a total of about six miles, Fulwood said. People can also shorten their path and start walking back earlier.
The first 100 people who register can choose either a free water bottle, a resistance band or a pedometer, Fulwood said. In years past, some people have created walking groups so they can have friends to talk to during the walk, she said.
Fulwood hopes the walk will help people become more familiar with the greenway and the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center. She often hears people say, “I didn’t even know where the Greenway begins,” or “I didn’t know it was over here.”
For people not accustomed to exercising, the walk does two things, Fulwood said. “They see that it’s doable,” she said. “They also gain confidence in themselves because a lot of people don’t want to go walking by themselves.”
Typically, about 50 to 75 people take part in the walk, but Fulwood is hoping more will show up this year. “It’s a great collaborative event that gets people active in our community so that we can help create healthy lifestyles and healthy communities,” she said.