OSCEOLA COUNTY \u2013 Through free opportunities for exercise, healthy eating choices and sustaining fruit and vegetable growth, a newly formed group aims to increase the health of residents in the area. Together We Can! health improvement initiative is a group of community members and health care professionals who come together monthly with the goal of creating health awareness and introducing programs in the county. \u201cBy working on the community\u2019s health, just by getting them out and teaching them healthier ways to live and be, we will have positive affect on hypertension, diabetes and obesity in our county,\u201d said Lisa Pope, Together We Can! group leader. After counties within the Central Michigan District were ranked among the least healthy counties in Michigan in 2010, health officials held a public health summit to engage the community in discussions to increase health in the community. The summit produced the CMDHD Together We Can! health improvement initiative in each of the six counties- Arenac, Clare, Gladwin, Isabella, Osceola and Roscommon. When Osceola County moved up in the rankings released earlier this month, Mark Kushion, Central Michigan District Health Department health officer attributed the success to the Together We Can! initiative. \u201cThe improvement in the rankings \u2026 for our region is a clear sign that the work we are collectively doing to improve health status is working,\u201d Kushion said in a press release issued about the rankings. The Osceola County group of ten members focuses on making options for health improvement available to residents in the area and is looking for new members to join their group. \u201cHaving a healthier community affects everyone,\u201d said Kim Livingston, group member. \u201cI\u2019ve lived here for many years and this group is a good way to have a positive impact.\u201d Formed in September 2011, the Osceola County Together We Can! health initiative group began a Let\u2019s Get Moving campaign last year, which included creating flyers that were placed in local grocery store bags with information about hours when Reed City High School was available for community members to walk the halls for winter exercise and locations to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. In conjunction with Reed City Public Schools, the group has implemented a new initiative that includes an announcement during half time of all home spring sports contests to encourage audience members to get out of the stands and walk around the track during the ten-minute period. Individuals who take the advice of the announcer and walk around the track will receive a container of yogurt donated by General Mills Yoplait. \u201cIf we can do something beneficial for the school and the community to get people moving, its a win-win,\u201d Pope said. The group is also working on providing gardens in a bag for those who do not have a garden and creating a flyer with the healthiest options on fast food menus and locations of farmers markets. Limiting youth energy drink consumption and sugary food availability in schools is another item under discussion by the team. \u201cWhen we address health issues in the community for younger children, they will have a healthier lifestyle as they get older,\u201d said Michael Russ, new group member. The group plans to expand their influence to include a larger area of the county and provide opportunities for the partnership of local businesses in the future. The group\u2019s next meeting will be May 16 in the cafeteria conference room at Spectrum Health Reed City Hospital at 3:30 p.m. For more information about the group, visit www.cmdhd.org or call Pope at (231) 832-7117.