Granville and Vance Counties, N.C.: Signs of Progress Toward Reversing the Childhood Obesity Epidemic

Counties report declines in obesity among youths ages 2-18

    • July 8, 2013

Granville and Vance are adjacent counties located in the Northern Piedmont region of North Carolina. Both counties benefit from the leadership of the same health department, and both recently reported that their childhood obesity rates declined. From 2005 to 2009, rates of obesity among 2- to 18-year-olds dropped by 3.5 percent in Granville and by 16.9 percent in Vance. 

Lisa Harrison: "We can help by getting folks excited about what’s working well.”

Lisa Harrison, health director of the Granville-Vance District Health Department, talks about the importance of building partnerships to address childhood obesity, especially in rural communities. Harrison was speaking at an event hosted in Washington, D.C., on July 9, by Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association.

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State Provides Plan for Local Health Department 

What efforts are underway in Granville and Vance to address the epidemic, and how can their work help inform efforts in other communities? RWJF asked Lisa Harrison, health director of the Granville-Vance District Health Department, and Jackie Sergent, mayor of Oxford and health promotion coordinator of the Granville-Vance District Health Department, about their approach to preventing childhood obesity.

Q: What put childhood obesity on the radar for your health department?

A: In 2002, we conducted a community health assessment in Granville. We surveyed residents about a variety of issues related to their lives and life in their county. We also analyzed demographics, the economy, education, and other health factors. Chronic disease and lifestyle issues surfaced as one of the top priorities. In 2004, we did the same assessment in Vance and ended up with the same conclusions. In 2007, we merged the working groups from the two counties to create one group focused on promoting healthy eating, physical activity, and healthy choices for families and children.

Q: How did you move to action?

A: We used the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Community Guide  to inform our decisions, and North Carolina’s Eat Smart Move More program served as a prime resource for our local interventions. We also used Eat Smart Move More messages consistently and promoted their logo everywhere. This really helped raise visibility, engage decision-makers, leverage funding for construction, and create a spirit of cooperation within and between the two counties. It also helped elected officials understand the importance of creating communities where people can walk, bike, and use their feet to get from one place to another.

Q: What are some of the things that have been happening since 2005 that may have helped contribute to the decline in kids’ obesity rates?

A: There are a number of projects—most of them are small-scale efforts, but collectively they’ve made it easier for people who live here to make healthy choices. A few that come to mind:

  • In 2004, we partnered with the town of Stem in Granville to install a small playground, and we started an employee wellness program in our health department to encourage healthy eating and physical activity. We promoted our wellness program to other worksites and in 2012, began working with faith groups and other partners to use a similar model to create health ministries with targeted goals for their congregations.
  • In 2007, we partnered with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services on a social marketing campaign in Vance to help promote physical activity among kids ages 8 to 12.
  • In 2008, we launched the PLAY Mobile program in Vance, providing a mobile playground to five elementary schools that had no dedicated indoor space for physical education and no place to store equipment.
  • We also implemented dozens of activities as part of our mini-grant projects with Eat Smart, Move More NC in 2008–09 and 2009–10. We helped Northern Granville Middle School implement a program that encourages students to use heart rate monitors and engage in vigorous activity during gym classes. We helped the Oxford Parks and Recreation Department create a policy that requires concessions stands to offer healthy snacks and drinks. Other grants targeted churches, hospitals, and worksites.

Q: What’s the significance of the Granville Greenway Master Plan?  

A: The idea for the greenway came about after our community health assessment, and in 2004, we received a grant from Eat Smart, Move More NC to create a master greenway plan for Granville. Granville County adopted the plan in 2006 and installed the first trail in 2008. The plan calls for continued collaboration among decision-makers, funders, planners, and residents to expand the trail network across many communities. There are multiple trail and sidewalk projects in place now, including plans for the towns of Stovall and Stem. Granville planners have leveraged about $7 million in funds since the master plan was written. When we’re done, the greenway network will help connect a number of neighborhoods, parks, and schools and offer residents of all ages a safe place to walk, jog, bike, and just enjoy being outside. Not only is the greenway helping us build a healthier, more active community, it’s a wonderful example of how much a small community can accomplish when people work together.

Q: What’s next for your department?

A: We’re very focused on making sustainable changes. We want to leave a legacy of health for generations to come. The progress we’ve seen so far is encouraging, but there are big challenges ahead. In public health, our education workforce has diminished. Right now, we have two health educators and one health promotion coordinator that serve nearly 100,000 people. If we want to do more of this good work, we’re going to need more help. 


A girl drinks water after participating in the Boys & Girls Club summer camp in Oxford, North Carolina.

Granville County by the Numbers

Population: 59,916¹

Racial/ethnic makeup: 64.0% White, 33.0% African American, 7.8% Hispanic or Latino

Percentage eligible for free or reduced-price lunch: 44%²

County Health Ranking: 46 of 100 North Carolina counties³

1. 2010 Census
2. National Center for Education Statistics
3. County Health Rankings

Vance County by the Numbers

Population: 45,422¹

Racial/ethnic makeup: 50.6% African American, 46.8% White, 7.0% Hispanic or Latino¹

Percentage eligible for free or reduced-price lunch: 70%²

County Health Ranking: 95 of 100 North Carolina counties³

1. 2010 Census
2. National Center for Education Statistics
3. County Health Rankings

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percent decline in #childhoodobesity in Vance County, NC from '05-'09. #SignsOfProgress

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Obesity in North carolina

Adult obesity rate: 29.6%

State rank: 17

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