Lea Hamner, 2014 GHLI Fellow
Over the past few months, I have travelled to five counties across the US to better understand why certain regions in a state have lower obesity rates than similar counties in the rest of their state. I work with a team of GHLI researchers who seek common themes across these counties in order to examine what may be replicated elsewhere to foster a community of health and reduce obesity rates. Some of these counties seem like an obvious pick to me—an urban setting, a progressive culture, an abundance of outdoor activities. Yet, we also encountered some tiny rural counties in the middle of nowhere that somehow seem to be doing things right.
One of our visits was to a county with a total population of about 25,000. We stayed in the one hotel in town at the center which was about a mile stretch of road. Everyone not only knew each other – but it was quickly evident that they genuinely cared about each other. We conducted 10 interviews asking participants why they thought this town was able to keep obesity rates down. Each interviewee was remarkably candid and excited about the work being done. Within an hour of our individual chats, we had a comprehensive understanding of the county—as well as a group of new friends who welcomed us into their community. They were so inviting that we were welcomed to pick green beans with one interviewee in her intentional-living community. The chipper attitude, hope, and resiliency of these individuals were palpable. This success and progress was not what I expected but I will happily admit that this county had fostered an incredible culture.