UW-Baraboo/Sauk County (copy) (copy)

Students walk to class at UW-Baraboo/Sauk County in October 2016.

According to a community health needs assessment conducted in 2015, Sauk County reported an adult obesity rate of 30.3 percent, a total greater than both the state and national averages.

Wisconsin has the 19th-highest rate of obesity among the 50 states, a rate that has more than doubled in the past quarter-century. In addition, in a community health needs assessment survey, 27 percent of Sauk County residents (compared to a Wisconsin state average of 22 percent) reported to have a sedentary lifestyle, which is defined as not participating in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least three days per week.

It is clear that the combination of the easy access to low-cost foods that are high in fat and added sugar, the reduction of health-enhancing physical activity in this new “digital age” and the lack of education and advocacy to encourage Sauk County residents to make positive choices that will benefit their health in both the short term and long term have led to an epidemic. However, efforts are being taken at the local level to help remedy this growing problem.

The Sauk Coalition for Activity and Nourishment is a newly established organization whose mission is to improve the health and quality of life of all Sauk County residents through education and advocacy. SAUK CAN consists of experts and members of several local organizations, including local health care centers, community parks and recreation departments, school districts and universities and local government affiliates such as the Sauk County Health Department and the University of Wisconsin-Extension. The committee is creating new opportunities for active living, increasing access to healthy food options and promoting healthy eating to Sauk County residents.

As an assistant professor in the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Athletics at the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County, I am undertaking a new initiative to help remedy the 14.1 percent rate of obesity among young adults 18-25 years of age — the majority of the UW-BSC population — through the establishment of our local campus as an American College of Sports Medicine, Exercise is Medicine On Campus site.

EIM-OC is rooted in the belief that no student should graduate from a college or university without a lifetime plan for fitness and that students, faculty, staff and administrators engage in movement as a daily aspect of campus life. However, EIM-OC efforts are not limited to university students or campus residents, as the program seeks to include community members in events and initiatives, as well. Though this program is in its extreme infancy and much work is to be done to produce long-term effects, it is my hope that the knowledge, skills and positive habits that are generated by the UW-BSC students and local community members who choose to participate in any aspect of the program will eventually radiate throughout the area and help to push the aforementioned obesity rates below state and national averages and lead to an overall higher quality of life among local residents.

So what can you do to become part of these efforts? Contact Joyce Smidl, Sauk County WIC project director at 608-355-4302 or jsmindl@co.sauk.wi.us if you’d like to learn more about the SAUK CAN program, or contact me, Matt Fencl, at 608-355-5247 or matthew.fencl@uwc.edu if you’d like to learn more or participate within the initial efforts of the EIM-OC program.

While there is no specific “cure” to reduce the high local rates of obesity and inactive lifestyles, any efforts to help the cause can produce significant effects, whether that is in a single individual or a large population of people. I look forward to helping to fix this growing problem in our community.

Matt Fencl is an assistant professor in the Department of Health, Exercise Science and Athletics at the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County. He can be reached at 608-355-5247 or matthew.fencl@uwc.edu.