Wallowa County Health Department is taking on chronic illnesses linked to tobacco use, physical inactivity and poor nutrition, and they've received a one-time $32,500 grant from the Oregon Public Health Division to help with the mission.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the state and contributes to the demise of 7,000 Oregonians per year, according to health department statistics. Inactivity and poor nutrition rank together as the second leading cause in the state, contributing to more than 1,400 preventable deaths per year.

The grant money will help local officials form new relationships between the public health department and community partners. Once combined, community forces will concentrate on broad policy, system and environmental changes to address prevention of unhealthy lifestyles.

This approach is a departure from the usual approach of focusing on the individual in community health care service education.

"The Healthy Community Building Capacity grant will help Wallowa County Health Department coordinators develop skills to evaluate the community's needs and health outcomes, and provide leadership for integrating chronic disease prevention, early detection and management into community planning," said county public health administrator Laina Fisher.

Grant dollars go toward funding the participation of local health officials in a 12-month Healthy Communities Training Institute. The training program helps guide officials in assessing community health patterns, and in planning and implementing the Healthy Communities program locally.

"Grantees are pioneers in their regions because they're planning innovative approaches to addressing chronic diseases long before they become burdens to their communities' overall health. We applaud their efforts," said the state's program manager Jane Moore.

Local health department officials will develop a plan that could include establishment of a diabetes self-management programs and enhancing physical education classes in the schools.

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