Turn trend around: County slides in health survey

Citrus County Chronicle

THE ISSUE: Citrus County scores slump in health surveys.
OUR OPINION: The fix begins with “we.”

Here’s the bad news:  Citrus County’s score on a nationally respected health survey continues to slide. Among Florida’s 67 counties, our county’s rank has dropped from 44 two years ago to 54 in 2018.

Here’s the good news: Each of us has the power to help turn that trend around, through both individual action and participation in targeted community efforts.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, produces annual “CountyHealth Rankings” — health status reports for nearly every county in the nation, including county rankings within states. The 2018 report shows that CitrusCounty has worsened in all the most important measures.

The RWFJ study looks at health outcomes — length and quality of life — as well as at health factors, which contribute to those outcomes. Factors include considerations within four categories: health behaviors, clinical care, physical environment, and social and economic factors. They capture a snapshot of “how health is influenced by where we live, learn, work and play.” This echoes the work of Dr. Jessica Young of the Department of Health Studies at AmericanUniversity, which suggests that social determinants are “among the most important influences on a person’s health.”

The RWJF report isn’t alone in ranking Citrus poorly. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), conducted in all 50 states, produces reports on a county level. While Citrus residents do well on certain indicators — women 40 and over get mammograms at a better rate than the state average, for instance — the same trouble spots revealed in the RWJF study emerge: Citrus has worse than state average scores for quality of life outcomes and for such health factors as smoking, obesity and inactivity.

The 2018 BRFSS is currently being conducted. If you receive a phone call on behalf of the Florida Department of Health and CDC asking you to answer some questions about your health and health practices, please do.

Another study, looking just at Citrus County, is being conducted starting this month. WellFlorida Council, the state-designated health planning council for north central Florida, was commissioned by the Health Department to update Citrus County‘s Community Health Assessment, last done in 2015.

The project steering committee hopes at least 1,000 people will answer the anonymous questionnaires, to be found online. Watch for details about the website address. Questions will cover what community issues might make it difficult to lead a healthy life, as well as personal health behaviors.

In addition to participating in these health status surveys, what can you do to improve your own health and that of the community?
• You already know this: eat right, exercise more, stop smoking (or don’t start), and monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol. Get regular checkups if you have a physician; make arrangements to engage a regular provider if you don’t. Resources are available if help is needed. Use them.
• Tell your local, state and federal representatives to adequately fund healthcare and support communities in developing economic self-sufficiency. As Dr. Young’s research shows, “shared economic prosperity is good for our health and good for the economy. More investments in the social determinants of health will help close health gaps.” It’s hard to focus on a healthy lifestyle if you’re worried about being able to put food on the table.
• Support efforts to develop better local healthcare resources, including for mental health.  By every measure, Citrus County lacks adequate healthcare practitioners.
• Consider joining the Community Health Improvement Partnership, a community-based coalition that focuses on interventions and policy changes to address issues revealed in health status reports specific to Citrus County.
County residents can do many things individually and in affiliation with organizations to improve personal and community health. We hope everyone will take the challenge to start working on it, right away.

RESOURCES
• Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s “County Health Rankings” — www.countyhealthrankings.org.
• Florida Department of Health reports — http://www.flhealthcharts.com.
• Citrus County Community Health Assessment, 2015 — http://wellflorida.org/publications/county/.
• To learn more about Citrus County’s Community Health Improvement Partnership, contact the health department administrative office in Lecanto at 352-513-6004.
• Langley Health System (community health center) — 352-419-5760 for appointment.

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