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The numbers for St. Mary’s County don’t look so great.
As of 2011, Maryland was listed as the 26th most obese state in the United States. Approximately 64 percent of state residents are overweight or obese, according to Lori Werrell, director of Health Connections at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital in Leonardtown.
But it’s even worse in St. Mary’s.
About 74 percent of St. Mary’s County adults are overweight or obese and, therefore, at greater risk for developing diabetes, hypertension, certain cancers and heart disease, according to the 2009 Maryland Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System.
“We are above the average in Maryland,” Werrell said.
But it’s not the kind of above average that anyone wants to be. “It is depressing,” Werrell said.
A coalition was formed in 2010 the Fit and Healthy St. Mary’s Coalition to try to alleviate the county’s problems with excess weight. Werrell is the chair of the coalition headed by MedStar St. Mary’s that also includes government agencies and private businesses. The coalition’s aim is to build strategies that promote healthy eating, increased physical activity and health education.
The goal of Fit and Healthy St. Mary’s is to decrease by 5 percent the number of adults with a BMI (body mass index) of 25 or higher by 2015. A BMI of 25 or higher is considered overweight. BMI is determined by a formula that compares weight and height.
“We have a long way to go, but a lot of room for improvement,” Werrell said. “As a county, I think we can do it. We just have to figure out where to start.”
The coalition’s first large-scale event is designed to give area residents ideas about what that start might look like. The Fit and Healthy Expo will be held Sunday, May 20, at Chancellor’s Run Regional Park in Great Mills, where for four hours, more than 25 vendors will host activities and lead demonstrations to educate visitors and inspire them to incorporate some healthy changes. There will be Zumba-style dance, yoga dance, hula hoop contests, T-ball and kickball games, an obstacle course and door prizes. The event is free.
“We’ll have everything from A to Z in the way of activities, contests, information and vendors,” said Jaclyn Shaw of Health Connections in a statement. “It’s a great opportunity to see what local wellness, health and fitness resources are available in the county.”
The College of Southern Maryland is one of the expo sponsors. One of the ways CSM will participate is by giving visitors a mini-session working with a personal trainer.
The idea is to give people who may have idly considered working with a personal trainer the chance to try it out for free. In 10 or 15 minutes, a trainer who will do a quick physical assessment, discuss that person’s fitness goals and then give them basic exercises with which to start.
Judy Ferrara, assistant director of wellness and fitness and the aquatics department at CSM’s Leonardtown campus, said she hopes the expo will inspire visitors, if not with the idea of working with a personal trainer, then with some other activity demonstrated at the event.
“Hopefully, the goal is to catch their interest. So they’ll say, ‘OK, We need to do more of that.’ There will be information available about where you can do it in the county,” she said.
The World Gym is also a sponsor of the upcoming expo and is expected to set up an obstacle course for visitors.
Tim Yatman, owner of World Gym facilities in Leonardtown, Lexington Park and California, said the course will demonstrate that “fitness can be fun.”
“We’ll let you know what your time is,” Yatman said of the expo’s obstacle course. “But the main thing is just that you’re being active and participating.”
For Yatman, better fitness is a quality-of-life issue. “You enjoy life a lot more,” he said. “And the more active you are now, the more benefits you get later.”
Werrell said she believes that most people believe that and want to be healthier. “The problem is that life gets in the way,” she said.
Her hope for the expo is that participants will find a place to start making changes. “You can say I will do this one thing ... like I will start serving vegetables at dinner or I will walk 30 minutes a day ... so that’s not overwhelming. It’s a start.”
In addition to MedStar St. Mary’s, CSM and World Gym, expo sponsors include the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, Dick’s Sporting Goods, PNC Bank, St. Mary’s County Government, The United Way of St. Mary’s County and the exercise website Vigybu.com.
Future coalition efforts include a healthiest restaurant challenge and a healthier school challenge, Werrell said.
More information on exercise, nutrition and community health events are listed by the coalition at www.stmaryshospitalmd.org/body.cfm?id=403.
If you go
The first Fit and Healthy Expo will be sponsored by St. Mary’s Fit and Healthy Coalition on Sunday, May 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Chancellor’s Run Regional Park in Great Mills. More than 25 vendors will host activities, lead demonstrations and provide information to visitors. There will be Zumba, yoga dance, yoga for children, a hula hoop contest, T-ball and kickball games. World Gym will sponsor an obstacle course. There will be door prizes, free health screenings, fitness contests and fitness and nutrition education. For more information on the free event, call 301-475-6184.