Childhood obesity, lead poisoning targeted in Fulton County

JOHNSTOWN – The Fulton County Public Health Department this year is concentrating on educating the public about two major childhood health issues this year – lead poisoning and obesity.

Officials from the health department and Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville plan to meet Monday to better strategize on how to attack the problems.

Gloversville 1st Ward Supervisor Marie Born, vice chairwoman of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors’ Human Services Committee, said at least 18 houses in Gloversville are considered at this time to be contaminated with lead.

According to the state Department of Health, Fulton County ranked fourth in the state in 2011 in the incidence of high lead levels in children younger than 72 months. The county rate was 27.5 percent, compared to the state average of 4.9 percent.

According to the state, the percentage of obese Fulton County schoolchildren as of July 2013 was 19.3 percent – higher than the 17.6 percent average in New York state. The data is based on the percentage of all students attending public schools with a body mass index at or above 95 percent.

The public-awareness initiatives are of special concern to Dr. Irina Gelman, the former chief resident of podiatric medicine at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn who began working in January as the Fulton County Public Health Department’s new director.

“We’re really, really focusing on true prevention,” she said.

The department has a new Facebook page that is trying to get the word out about fighting childhood lead poisoning and obesity.

Gelman said the obesity part of the initiative will include looking at school menus and community resources. The public health department also has a billboard campaign to make the public more aware of childhood lead dangers and available clinics.

“We have constructed a novel approach with which we anticipate a long-term impact, with sustainability as a key factor,” Public Health Educator Christina Akey stated in a news release, regarding childhood obesity. “It is evident that preventing chronic disease begins in early childhood. Promoting healthy nutrition and physical activity to Fulton County residents, as well as offering healthy alternatives/options in school meals are just a few of the projects we will be working on.”

Akey said the county will partner with schools, businesses and community organizations for this “worthwhile endeavor.”

“Our Facebook page is an important forum for feedback, as well as the dissemination of pertinent information to residents regarding this, as well as other programs and vital public health messages,” Akey said.

Akey said a collaborative effort with the hospital on lead-poisoning awareness is an “integral part of community health improvement.”

“Increasing screening rates will allow at-risk children to be identified and treated,” the news release said. “Reducing the burden of the existing older housing stock via renovation, abatement or other applicable means is a crucial part of eradicating the issue. As this is a self-limiting matter, that ultimately leads to a substantial decrease in the number of children diagnosed with lead poisoning. Social and traditional media campaigns will be utilized to raise awareness. For this initiative, we will partner with local businesses, providers, and community members in order to make a difference and ultimately eliminate this problem within Fulton County.”

According to the public health website, lead poisoning can be caused by particles from living in houses built before 1978 when lead paint was used. Elevated lead levels can result in developmental delays, and if not treated, can result in brain damage.

Fulton County Public Health operates a lead-testing clinic once a month for children with no insurance.

The majority of children, however, receive a prescription from their family physician and have the test done at a local hospital laboratory. The tests are provided for all children ages 6 months to 6 years. Results are sent to Fulton County Public Health for followup and risk-reduction education.

More information about the county initiatives can be found on the county health department’s Facebook page or by calling 736-5720.