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Counties get health snapshots

August 12, 2000

Counties get health snapshots



By DON WORTHINGTON / Staff Writer


The healthiest residents of the Tri-State appear to live in Franklin County, Pa.

Health status "snapshots" released last week by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services show Franklin County residents live slightly longer than other Tri-State residents -76.7 years; have the lowest percentage of people in poor health - 11.7 percent; and have the smallest population deemed vulnerable to health risks - 34.1 percent.

Health officials said there are no surprises in the data.

The snapshot was compiled using statistics gathered between 1990 and 1997.

What is different, said federal health officials, is the way the data is presented. In addition to comparing county data with U.S. averages, the Community Health Status Indicators Report groups counties all over the country with similar demographic information.

Therefore, Franklin County's health statistics can be compared with others in its peer group, which includes Washington County, Md.; Napa County, Calif.; Charlotte County, Fla.; and Berkshire County, Mass.

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Of the peer group, residents of Charlotte County, on Florida's west coast, had the longest life expectancy - 78.8 years; the lowest death rate per 100,000 people - 757; and the lowest percentage of people in poor health - 6.4 percent.

"We encourage counties to compare their health status with the nation and peer counties, identify strengths and areas that need improvement, and share solutions for improving public health," said U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration chief Claude Earl Fox.

Washington County Health Officer Dr. Robert L. Parker said the peer groups will be marginally helpful.

If a county measured at the top or bottom of a peer group, Parker said, the peer information might be helpful. But if a county is "in the middle group, it doesn't tell a whole lot."

The real value in the study is the ability to pare down the peer groups and look at specific information, Parker said.

Information in the snapshot includes statistics on births and deaths, environmental health factors such as air quality, infectious disease outbreaks and access to care.

Parker said much of the information contained in the report has been used by Healthy Community 2010 - a Washington County organization formed to develop long-term health solutions - in setting its goals.

"The snapshot provides us with a nice cross check to see if we've missed anything," Parker said.

According to the Washington County snapshot, the county rates favorably in comparison to peer and U.S. rates for infant mortality, suicides and deaths due to motor vehicle accidents.

Washington County rates unfavorably in care for unmarried mothers, post-neonatal infant mortality and deaths due to coronary heart disease, colon cancer, breast cancer for women and lung cancer.

Parker said the favorable-unfavorable rankings show either the success of, or the need for health education.

He said the high marks for infant mortality can be attributed to work by groups such as Healthy Families. He said the county is already working to bring down the neonatal infant mortality rate by educating mothers on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Parker said, however, that it's often difficult to change the behaviors that cause health problems.

"What kind of intervention changes behavior? That moves the issue from quantitative in nature to qualitative," he said.

The report did not address specific behaviors. It did, however, list risk factors for premature death and the percentage of the population affected by state.

For instance, West Virginia had the highest percentage in the Tri-State region.

The snapshot showed that 86.5 percent of the West Virginia population lives a sedentary lifestyle, 37.8 percent suffer from obesity, 28.3 percent have high blood pressure, 27.9 percent smoke, and 6.3 percent have diabetes.

In comparison, 75 percent of Marylanders live a sedentary lifestyle, 34.4 suffer from obesity, 23.8 percent have high blood pressure, 22.4 percent smoke and 5.4 percent have diabetes.

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