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UIC, local health department team to help women of southernmost Illinois

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farm scene
Photo: L. Brian Stauffer

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes — women and girls in the southernmost part of Illinois have higher incidence of these health risks compared to those in the rest of the state.

A new UIC program received a $1.5 million federal grant to work with a southern county health department and local churches to fight these health disparities in rural Illinois.

The Office of Research on Women and Gender and the Southern Seven Health Department will develop a 12-week program for women in Alexander, Hardin, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski and Union counties.

UIC and the health department completed a regional health assessment earlier this year that concluded women in the area have higher rate of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity when compared to Illinois women overall.

Among the causes: access to health care, lifestyle choices, attitudes about health and community resources. A solution: Heart Smart for Women, a program at 12 local churches to increase physical activity and improve nutrition.

Classes will be offered for 12 weeks, followed by monthly maintenance programs — like cooking demonstrations and walking groups — for women and men to help sustain behavior change in the long term.

"This grant provides an opportunity for the Center for Research on Women and Gender to collaborate with our partners in southern Illinois, a traditionally under-resourced area of the state, to improve the health of rural women,” said Stacie Geller, director of the UIC center and professor of obstetrics and gynecology.

When compared to Illinois women overall, a higher percentage of women in the region do not meet the recommended standard of five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, report less physical activity and have almost double the state’s adult female smoking rate.

The new five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expands on previous funding from the federal department’s Office of Women's Health. UIC and Southern Seven Health Department have been partners in health promotion initiatives since 2007.

“We are extremely pleased to continue our partnership with UIC,” said Patricia Moehring, community health education director for Southern Seven Health Department. “I am really excited for the women we serve in our region to have the opportunity to move themselves to healthier lifestyles.”


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