March 21, 2003 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Recently more than 100 University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Agents from across the state came together in Lexington to learn how to "Build a Toolkit for a Local Response Toward a Healthy Kentucky." The four-day event was the inaugural training for agents as a result of the Health Education through Extension Leadership (HEEL) project administered jointly by UK's College of Agriculture and College of Medicine.

"The agents will have baseline data and profiles of each of their counties that covers death rates and the major health indices in Kentucky," said Linda Jouridine, UK health Extension specialist. "They'll have information on diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer and be able to compare the Kentucky statistics of each to the United States models."

UK's Assistant Director for Family and Consumer Sciences Bonnie Tanner believes the training is the beginning of a long chain of successful events and programs that will improve and enrich the lives of Kentucky's residents.

"The agents will get lessons and tools to take back to their counties about cardiovascular health, diabetes, obesity and cancer awareness," she said. "This partnership brings us the technical expertise of the College of Medicine that we've never had and there's not another state with a program like this. So we are being watched nationwide to see how we implement it."

Extension health associate Catherine Walsh believes all Extension agents are valuable in the process of delivering health information in their counties. She is one of four associates whose main duty is to be a liaison between the county Extension agents, Extension specialists and HEEL resources.

"I think health information can be inserted into all kinds of Extension programming," she said. "I'd like to see us working with all types of Extension agents to expand our impact and to reach a wider audience. Some people may not sign up for a heart disease screening or a health class, but those people also need to be reached. 4-H agents also are important since they know people start their behaviors early and those are habits that will affect their health as adults."

Agents will go home ready to deliver a pilot program about cardiovascular health. Tanner said they will have cooperation from many specialists and doctors at UK who will even come to their counties to help with testing.

"We're excited about this united approach to improve cardiovascular health, " she said. "We hope to start an exercise program soon because obesity, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle are our three worst lifestyle practices in Kentucky. So if we can work on improving our lifestyles we will automatically help with chronic disease."

Becky Nash, Extension family and consumer science agent, attended the training and will be delivering the information back in Taylor County.

"With the health costs rising so much, I think we have to be more focused on prevention and this training will provide a lot of that information for me to use back home," she said. "I'm glad we'll have these resources because the need is really there in our communities. We've been doing a little health programming in our county with the cooperation of our hospital, but they have always provided the resources and we just had the location. Now it will be nice to have our own specialists behind us."

Jouridine is looking forward to seeing the fruits of their labor as the programming gets started in all areas of Kentucky.

"With additional people, power and resources we can build bridges and become a catalyst for change," she said. "The HEEL resources should not be looked at as being separate from what we do in Extension. It is just going to infuse what our role is as an outreach agency and educational unit. These resources are just going to improve that, and hopefully we are going to work smarter instead of work harder."


Bonnie Tanner  859-257-3887