Healthy in the Hills: In creating a culture of health, Mingo County is an astounding success story.
By focusing on ways to eat better and become more active, leaders in Mingo County are reversing trends and helping residents lead healthier lives. It’s no secret that West Virginia ranks among the worst U.S. states for chronic health problems such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, and Mingo has ranked among West Virginia’s worst counties for those things in the past. So local policymakers and health organizations are rising to the challenge and working hard to change those rankings.
The turnaround has been palpable. Today, Mingo County has been granted West Virginia Healthy People Healthy Places (WVHPHP) Gold status.
“I’m proud of our collaborative recognition for Healthy People Healthy Places because it’s not about one person or one group. It’s about what we are all doing together, no matter how short-term or long-term we’ve been at it.”
– Amy Hannah, Community Resource Network Director at the Williamson Health and Wellness Center
“I’m proud of our collaborative recognition for Healthy People Healthy Places because it’s not about one person or one group. It’s about what we are all doing together, no matter how short-term or long-term we’ve been at it,” says Amy Hannah, Community Resource Network Director at the Williamson Health and Wellness Center. The center, a federally qualified health center, started “Healthy in the Hills” initiatives with community partners to spur Mingo county residents towards healthy eating, active lifestyles and community involvement. Healthy in the Hills established a Community Health Worker (CHW) program and a mobile farmers market in order to reach more county residents living with chronic diseases.
The Mingo county seat of Williamson has been an epicenter of getting fresh produce into the hands of seniors and those who may otherwise have difficulty accessing them. Through a partnership between local farmers and the Williamson Redevelopment Authority, the Williamson Farmers Market was established and fresh fruits and vegetables are now more plentiful in the county.
Where there are food deserts and people who lack transportation, the Williamson Farmers Market and “My Mobile Market” ensure that people can get the produce they need. Created in 2014, My Mobile Market evolved from a monthly to a weekly feature in many Mingo county communities, doubling its sales from 2018 to 2019. The mobile market truck now makes at least 40 stops each year and offers a SNAP stretch program: People who use their EBT cards to purchase fresh produce automatically receive the same dollar amount of veggies and fruit in order to double the amount of food they take home. To thrive in a post-COVID-19 world, Williamson Farmers Market offers drive through service where families receive pre-packaged bags of fresh produce. Online “Tasty Tuesday” videos demonstrate how to tastily prepare the contents of each week’s bag.
The county relies on hyperlocal champions and influencers who bring this culture of health to their own towns and communities. They focus on fun events that provide numerous opportunities for physical activity, reaching diverse audiences such as seniors, public housing residents and people right in their workplaces. The Mingo County WV Department of Health and Human Resources promotes healthy food and beverages among its own employees by sponsoring cooking classes and other educational opportunities. Mingo County Schools use School Celebration Guidelines that minimize use of sugar-laden, high-fat foods. And parks have been added throughout the county so more people can take advantage of free opportunities to be active outdoors.
“When we completed the Healthy People Healthy Places application, it was such a good reality check for us and the efforts we had been making locally,” says Hannah. “We found that our efforts were being put in the right place, and we were already doing things that are truly making a difference.”
Hannah says that the HPHP benchmarks gave her and others in Mingo County an opportunity to inventory its resources, look at areas they don’t usually look at and incorporate new benchmarks into their Community Health Improvement Plan.
“I’m really proud of how everybody pulled together at that time [to complete the HPHP application],” continues Hannah. “It was a short time frame, and I was like, ‘OK, let’s get this done.’ And everybody was willing to jump onboard and was excited about it.”
West Virginia Healthy People Healthy Places recognizes communities of all sizes around the state that meet key health benchmarks to build healthier places to live, learn, work, eat, and play.
Photos courtesy of Arthur Alexander