In Georgia, an African American South County Is Making Healthy Living a Community Affair

by Ari Pinkus November 09, 2018
County Commissioner Jonathan Pitts

Energized after a wellness conference by the National Association of Counties three years ago, Commissioner Jonathan Pitts of Jones County, Georgia, spearheaded the Live Healthy Jones initiative to tackle his community’s concerns about diabetes, heart disease and obesity. The issue resurfaced in a major way this past spring when Jones County’s insurance broker stressed a wellness program could help control the county’s high healthcare costs that result from residents’ lifestyle choices.

Obesity, physical inactivity and diabetes are common concerns in the African American South, according to the American Communities Project’s analysis of the 2018 County Health Rankings. On obesity, the national average is 28%. Of the 370 counties in the African American South, 368 sit above this average. On physical inactivity, the national average is 23%, and all but three African American South counties sit above this average. On diabetes prevalence, the African American South’s 14% average exceeds the 14 other community types, which range from 9% to 13%. Jones County’s figures follow these patterns.

Recently, ACP caught up with Commissioner Pitts to find out his plans and hopes for the Live Healthy Jones program — and the key ingredients for its success.

Focus Using Data

The health department informed us that diabetes and heart disease are the top two health issues in Jones County. Therefore, diabetes and heart disease are the health issues Live Healthy Jones continues to focus on. 


How Community Partners Participate

  • Jones County Health Department: provides data and information on the health concerns and issues in the county.
  • Jones County Schools Nutrition: promotes healthy meals and options in the schools. This past summer, the Jones County Schools Nutrition Department offered its first summer feeding program. Some kids don’t eat breakfast and lunch during the summer because schools are closed.
  • Jones County Extension Agency: offers education and healthy meal courses to the community. The extension agency plans to partner with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program to offer courses on good food choices; meal planning and sodium intake; smart grocery shopping; eating fruits and vegetables; healthily eating out; reducing sugar intake; and physical activity.
  • Jones County Parks and Recreation: offers the community a safe place to exercise and recreation activities. We have four parks with a fifth one under construction. The new passive park will be a quiet place to enjoy nature, go for a walk, fly a kite and/or read a book, and will have a dog play area. Recreation activities include baseball, softball, basketball, football, golf and soccer. We’re researching the possibility of offering footgolf at our golf course.
  • Jones County Family Connections: helps us by sharing our message with civic organizations and the community. The group brings together community partners to develop, implement and evaluate plans that address challenges facing children and families.
  • Community Health Care Systems: partnered with us to offer our first health fair in the community (Get Healthy Haddock in August 2016). They offer volunteer healthcare professionals to perform physicals; take blood pressure; and measure height, weight and glucose levels.

Possible Partners

I welcome insurance brokers and/or companies on our team because they have data and resources to help us achieve our goal. Insurance brokers and/or companies can provide health coaches to educate and motivate individuals on making wise choices. They provide incentives for people to complete annual checkups and exams. They can also better inform the public on choosing the best healthcare plans for their family.

Motivation Through Education

We motivate Jones County citizens to make good health and wellness decisions with education. We don’t have the resources to offer financial incentives. We use email and Facebook to share important information. Hopefully in the future, we will be able to send information home with students in our school system and place printed brochures throughout the community.

This initiative is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to have a Live Healthy Jones (LHJ) coordinator. The coordinator will work with the public, coordinate events and schedule seminars on a regular basis. The coordinator will also manage social media accounts.

Key Challenge

Like most health and wellness programs, people are excited in the beginning, but we have to find a way to keep them motivated about making wise decisions. Hopefully, we will have an opportunity to offer incentives, including gift cards, fitbits and free gym memberships.

Plans for Next Year

In 2019, my plan is to get our community partners together and come up with two to three events, like health fairs and walk/run events. We’re also planning to work with the Extension Agency and offer courses on making smart choices about food and physical activity. To address diabetes and heart disease, we’re making sure people know they can receive screenings at our health department and at Community Health Care Systems.

Other goals: schedule monthly meetings, appoint a LHJ coordinator and get an insurance broker and/or company on our team.

Vision for Live Healthy Jones

My vision for LHJ is to be the health and wellness voice for Jones County. I would like LHJ to host monthly events to educate Jones County citizens on diabetes, exercise, health disease, nutrition and stress management. I would also like to offer regular, fun activities (5K, walk, etc.). I would like other communities to look at LHJ as an example of how a community came together to address and enhance the health and well-being of its citizens. 

Advice for Other Communities

  1. Get your community partners to the table.
  2. Determine the services each partner offers so you can use their services to meet the needs of your initiative.
  3. Determine what health issues you need to address in your community.
  4. Prioritize the issues, be realistic and choose one or two issues to address. Try to get some small wins and build from there.
  5. Appoint a coordinator and get an insurance broker and/or company on your team.

Read more about Jones County, Georgia, in the American Communities Project’s October report “Health and Place in America, 2018.”

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