By Misty Poe
Times West Virginian
When it comes to area-wide studies, especially on health, there’s usually good news and bad news.
So was the recent report on the health of America’s counties released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently. The nationwide county study evaluated health outcomes and health factors, and ranked counties accordingly. Marion County is healthier than many counties in West Virginia, with an health factor ranking of 11th, meaning it sits in the top fifth of the state. As far as health outcomes, the county was ranked 18th. As far as length of life, Marion County ranked 13th and was 25th in quality of life.
The ranking of 11th as far as health factors takes into account things like smoking, obesity, inactivity, sexually transmitted infections, unemployment rates, the number of primary care physicians in the area, excessive drinking habits and lack of insurance.
We’ve done pretty well in these areas, with only slightly higher averages for STDs, adult obesity, lack of insurance, children in single-parent households and long drive commutes while driving alone.
Those aren’t all issues that you can fix with regular visits to a physician’s office. Some of them are family issues and decisions that are beyond control.
However, we’ve come too far as a society since the 1980s to be talking about an increase in the rate of STDs. Our vigilance may have dropped on this issue because we don’t see media reports about HIV or AIDS on a regular basis. But we’ve got to stress to everyone from teens and beyond that the safest sex is not having sex at all. But having protected sex is not just a responsible decision, but could protect you from a lifelong or fatal disease.
As far as health insurance coverage, it exists for all income levels and is available now through federal and state health exchanges for those who haven’t previously had coverage. Having health insurance encourages people to see doctors for health concerns before they become untreatable illnesses or fatal diseases.
“Individuals who see their healthcare provider as recommended and follow recommended guidelines for health screenings can prevent diseases or find changes early, before the disease process advances,” said Donna Riffle, director of nursing with the Marion County Health Department.
As far as adult obesity, regular physician office visits can help, but the best way to combat that is to get up and move. Marion County has an extraordinary system of rail trails, parks and outdoor recreation opportunities that are of little or no cost to residents. Taking just a few extra steps a day is a big step that many adults in our county could benefit from.
We should celebrate this recent report for what it says about our health overall, but we should see it for what it is — a report card. There are many, many more things we can do to get healthier and we have to keep promoting those things.