A large percentage of Merced County residents are concerned about obesity, according a first-ever Field Poll of voters in rural counties throughout California.
Ninety-two percent of county voters described obesity as a "serious problem," and 84 percent agree that neighborhoods play a role in people's risk for obesity, according to the poll. It found that voters strongly support community action to prevent obesity.
"What I found promising is that Merced County voters do see the value of preventing chronic disease," said Cindy Valencia, supervising health educator for the county's public health department.
Data show that 55 percent of Merced adults and teens are overweight or obese, according to the public health department.
Twelve rural counties were included in the poll as part of an initiative funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Public Health Institute, Valencia said.
Merced County received $1.2 million over five years under the initiative to implement community action plans to help reduce the risk for obesity among county residents, she said.
"We need to ask ourselves what are the things that we can do both as individual, entity, community group or business, to create an environment to support physical community engagement," Valencia said.
The poll found that 91 percent of county voters support improving access to fresh drinking water in parks, schools and public buildings, and 91 percent recognized that added sugar in beverages increase a person's chance of becoming overweight or obese.
Ninety-three percent recognized the risk for type 2 diabetes, the poll found.
The California for Health leadership team in Merced County will have a meeting Wednesday to identify goals for creating healthier communities.
For example, the team will consider ways to increase access to healthier beverages and physical activities, and will examine wellness policies at schools, Valencia said.
"I think it's going to take for us really working together to help our children and the adults in our community be healthy," she said. "It will require a comprehensive approach."
Public health officials are working in south Merced, Winton and Livingston as part of the initiative, Valencia said. They hope to spread out to other communities throughout the county in coming years.
Claudia Corchado, program manager for the Merced County Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program, couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at
(209) 385-2482, or firstname.lastname@example.org.