New Ingham health director assesses obesity, other health challenges

As 2011 concludes, health issues are high on the agenda at the state capitol. Governor Rick Snyder's administration is shaping new policy recommendations in two areas considered critical: obesity and infant mortality. And the future of medical marijuana remains unclear.

Locally, Renee Canady is navigating these issues as the new director of the Ingham County Health Department. Canady says that along with policy discussions, counties and municipalities are concerned about state funding.

RENEE CANADY: It's our hope that we'll look at some funding opportunities that would come through these priorities that the Governor is setting. As you know, we're suffering through the same fiscal challenges that every other industry in the state and nation are facing right now. And so we're doing a lot of grant-seeking--local funders--to try to support initiatives that would combat obesity, that would combat infant mortality in our region.

MARK BASHORE: And if more funding were forthcoming, how would you put that to work?

CANADY: Well, I'm real pleased to say that in one area, funding is forthcoming. Ingham County has been selected to receive a nurse-family partnership grant, which is a very actively engaged, community based, home visitation program for vulnerable and high risk moms. So that's going to be a real advantage for our community in our fight to decrease infant mortality. When we think about our obesity initiatives, we're optimistic that funding will come forward. And some of the things that we've done is to try to impact the context of peoples' lives. What is the environment for accessing healthy foods for them? And so working with schools, working with the Greater Lansing Food Bank over the last five years, we've increased from about 40 community gardens to over 100, but (we) still see seven census tracks in our community that are categorized as food deserts,' where access to healthy food is not there. So that's where I would see us funneling funds.

BASHORE: Your board of health recently heard public concerns regarding medical marijuana in the county. What was the take-away from that experience? What patterns are there out there as far as issues regarding medical marijuana in Ingham County?

CANADY: It was interesting that the majority of the people who attended, attended to express concern about the presence of dispensaries--fears about oversight, some concerns about the legitimacy, whether or not increased crime that they perceived in their communities might be associated with the dispensaries. We've not substantiated those, but that the community has articulated them as a concern, I think is something that we then have to hear, as an oversight body.

BASHORE: Are Ingham county patients who have medical marijuana cards able to get marijuana now?

CANADY: I've certainly not been apprised that there are any barriers to those who have a legitimate medical need for that substance.

BASHORE: Besides these issues, what lay ahead in 2012 for the health department?

CANADY: One of the things that we've had increasing concern about are the rates of asthma in our community, which are twice the state level. And so we are in the process of looking at some preventions/interventions there. Any childhood death to asthma is a tragedy because of the loss of that life, but (also) because it is preventable. And so we're looking to sort of ratchet things up in that regard, hoping to get babies here healthily through the nurse-family partnership initiative, but also keeping them healthy through things like asthma prevention and asthma education.

BASHORE: Are you expecting a wave of the flu before the winter is behind us?

CANADY: Well certainly our hope is that the wave would be prevented by high immunization rates and we're real pleased at the response of our community. So I'm hoping that the rate would maintain what we would expect because so many people of all ages we've seen older and younger residents of our community coming in for their flu vaccines and so we're real pleased about that.