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Chamber's HealthSmart to offer interactive health tips
Ex-Hawks star to kick off expo at Mountains Center
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GAINESVILLE -- This is not your run-of-the-mill health fair.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Georgia Mountains Center, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce will present its first HealthSmart Interactive Health & Wellness Expo.

"This is different from a typical expo," said Chamber president Kit Dunlap. "We didn't want exhibitors just handing out business cards. We wanted everything to be interactive."

Robyn Lynch, vice president of membership development for the Chamber, said each of the 73 booths will focus on some aspect of health care or wellness, and each will invite participation from visitors.

"There will be lots of screenings and many ways for people to learn about their own health status," she said. "In addition to the exhibits, we will have seminars throughout the day, with doctors and other professionals speaking on topics such as diabetes, heart disease, injury prevention for athletes, and how to start a wellness program in your company."

There will also be demonstrations, including one on healthy cooking techniques. And from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., local restaurants will offer samples of their own healthy menu items.

"Everything is free, except for the flu shots, which cost $25," Lynch said. "We've been so fortunate with all the sponsors we've been able to work with. It's because of them that we've been able to put on this event at no charge."

Also free, with advance registration, is a 9 a.m. breakfast featuring NBA Hall of Famer and former Atlanta Hawks star Dominique Wilkins, who will talk about diabetes management and prevention.
Wilkins was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes seven years ago. Despite his background as an athlete, a strong family history predisposed him to the disease.

He is now an advisor with former U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich's Center for Health Transformation, which has played a major role in planning both the expo and a community wellness initiative that the Chamber is working on.

Lynch said Wilkins also will be available during part of the expo to talk to people one-on-one about diabetes.

"Though I'm sure there will be some who'll want to talk about basketball, too," she said.

Mimi Collins, chief executive officer of the Longstreet Clinic and chair of the Chamber's health care committee, said the expo will mirror their long-term agenda for promoting a healthier Hall County.

"What we're trying to do is get the community, including employers, to embrace the idea of wellness," she said. "We've met with different demographic groups, trying to define what wellness means and how do we quantify it."

The committee realized that by concentrating on just two things, it could help people make changes that would benefit their overall health.

"We decided that if we could target weight reduction and diabetes prevention, we would be able to address a whole spectrum of other health issues, such as cardiovascular risk," Collins said.

That's because the same measures, such as quitting smoking, cutting down on dietary fat, or taking a daily walk, can prevent a variety of illnesses.

Collins said the committee has also met with school officials and with owners of local restaurants.
"We've asked what the Chamber can do to help them make changes," she said. "We're saying, ‘Let's make wellness something we think about all the time, as part of our culture.'"

The wellness initiative originated with the Vision 2030 project, a countywide effort in which residents discussed how they would like to see Hall evolve in the future.

"There was a lot of talk about health care, especially wellness and prevention," said Denise Deal, executive director of Vision 2030. "The Longstreet Clinic, the city and county school systems, and the city of Gainesville all have wellness programs for their own employees. What we're trying to figure out is how to broaden that to the community as a whole."

Because diabetes is now considered the most costly chronic illness in the United States, the HealthSmart expo will take a team approach to tackling the problem. Collins said Longstreet, Good News Clinics, Lanier Technical College and the Center for Health Transformation will all provide support for a four-part diabetes screening center at the expo.

"After filling out a risk assessment form, each person will be checked for height and weight, blood pressure and blood glucose level," she said. "After the screening, they'll have an opportunity to sit down and talk with a diabetes educator about what steps to take next."

Without identifying the participants, health workers will collect data from the screenings, such as how many people had abnormally high glucose levels.

"We then hope to do similar screenings at other events," Collins said. "We'd like to use this demographic data as a method to empower people and start a dialogue."

Lynch said she expects at least 1,500 people to attend the expo, and about 200 have already signed up for the breakfast.

Dunlap said HealthSmart is a natural progression of the Chamber's health care committee, which formed about five years ago.

"It's kept growing," she said. "We've held a number of seminars, and we've brought Newt Gingrich in as a speaker. This is another step. Health care is on everybody's mind now, and it's exciting to see so many businesses come together on this issue."

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