VINELAND — Ashley Mallon spends as much time as she can working out to keep healthy, something she wants to share with residents in the least healthy county in New Jersey.
Mallon is the local YMCA’s first healthy-living coordinator, a job that will take her to health fairs and other public events to teach Cumberland County residents easy and affordable ways to exercise.
The 23-year-old Clayton, Gloucester County, resident realizes she has a lot of work to do to change deep-set attitudes about getting and staying health.
“It’s a lifestyle change,” Mallon said of what she and the YMCA are trying to accomplish.
She is not doing it alone: YMCA staff members are working with the city’s Health Department to develop safe biking routes through the downtown areas. Others are visiting mom-and-pop grocery stores to get owners to increase their stock of healthy foods. That is for customers who depend on those shops for their food because they cannot get to supermarkets, which have a larger variety of healthy foods.
“We want to create an environment where living healthy is encouraged,” said Lisa Scheetz, the YMCA’s operations director.
That is a difficult challenge in Cumberland County.
Released earlier this year, the 2012 County Health Rankings study by the University of Wisconsin and the Princeton-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation listed Cumberland County as the least healthy county in the state for the third consecutive year. The ranking, which began in 2010, considers factors that affect people’s health in the categories of healthy behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.
Cumberland County’s results were dismal: Some of the findings show that the county’s adult obesity, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, sexually transmitted infection and teen birthrates all exceed state and national averages. The study also suggested that the county has a generation of people whose life span may be shorter than those of their parents.
The study also showed South Jersey to be the least healthy section of the state.
Mallon, who has a bachelor’s degree in health promotion and fitness management from Rowan University, will target more than just individuals. She said she would tell families how they can start getting healthy together by doing simple things such as taking walks, going for bicycle rides and playing basketball.
While health experts say people should exercise for about 30 minutes a day, Mallon said her goal was to get people active.
“They’re not always aware of what’s good for them,” Mallon said.
Candice Stoler, a registered dietitian who works with the YMCA, said local grocery store owners were receptive to the agency’s efforts. She said many would highlight their healthy foods selection if it was not practical for them to increase their stock.
As for the bike-route project, Scheetz said she was hopeful that it would be available by the end of the summer.
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