County health ranking remains average

Washington County ranks in the middle of the pack of Ohio county health rankings released this week, just as it did last year.

The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program is in its fourth year and is a joint operation between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The program examines 25 factors that contribute to overall health, including obesity levels, childhood poverty, physical inactivity and access to healthy foods.

Just like in 2012, Washington County was ranked 46th out of a total of 88 counties in the state. Even though its rank remained the same as last year, it’s still worse than the 38 ranking the county had received in 2011.

“These rankings are specifically designed to gage how county programs are doing in order to improve outcomes,” said Tessie Pollock, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health.

Pollock said ideally counties wouldn’t use the results as a competition but rather a way to learn from each other.

“These rankings are a great tool for gaging what programs work and what don’t,” she said. “It can be a great way for counties to get together and share ideas about the best ways to improve citizens’ health.”

One reason for the lack of improvement in Washington County may be due to a higher level of adult obesity and fast food restaurants compared to the rest of the state of Ohio.

Washington County’s adult obesity rate is 33 percent, while the average for Ohio is 30 percent. The percentage of restaurants that are fast food establishments is 60 percent, which is 5 percent higher than the state average, according to the report.

This comes as no surprise to Sharon Hoover, 56, a resident of Marietta.

“We have way too many fast food places around this area,” said Hoover. “I’ve noticed that more people seem to be obese, especially teenagers.”

Contributing factors for obesity can be physical inactivity and an unhealthy diet. Obesity can lead to an increased chance of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

Part of the problem with obesity and fast food around the country is that it is a convenient and cheap option, according to Liane Gray-Starner, 52, a resident of Marietta.

“By the time some people get off work at 5:30 or 6 p.m. they don’t have time to shop and prepare a meal,” said Gray-Starner. “It becomes much faster and cheaper to swing by a fast food place for dinner.”

Steps are being taken to educate Washington County residents on the dangers of diet and obesity, according to Court Witschey, healthy communities coordinator for the Washington County Health Department.

“We piloted a program at the end of 2012 called the Complete Health Improvement Program, or CHIP,” said Witschey. “It’s a lifestyle health education program that teaches people the link between nutrition and disease.”

The CHIP program will be implemented later this year, will cost $599 and classes will consist of 18 two-hour sessions, according to Witschey.

There isn’t a schedule set up for the program yet, so those interested are encouraged to contact the Washington County Health Department to be put on the waiting list.

“It might seem like an expensive option, but it’s a results based program,” said Witschey. “Of the 15 members in the pilot, five of them either reduced dosage or eliminated one of their medications.”

With the economy how it has been lately, paying for such a program isn’t an option for a number of families, according to Gray-Starner. She said that it would be nice to see an public service that educates adults and children on proper nutrition to be developed.

“If you could have a nutritionist come to the school during a time where parents could eat lunch with their child it would be great,” said Gray-Starner. “I don’t know who could set something like that up, but you would kill two birds with one stone that way.”

Until the CHIP classes or another option are available, Witschey encouraged residents of the county to take advantage of other opportunities in the area.

“We have a wonderful system of natural trails around this area,” he said. “Stay active and make use of these by walking, running or biking.”

Not all of the information pertaining to Washington County in the rankings was negative.

Excessive drinking decreased 1 percent from 13 to 12 percent in Washington County from last year and is 6 percent better than the state of Ohio’s 18 percent average, according to the report. The report defines excessive drinking as anyone who reported drinking in excess of four (women) or five (men) alcoholic beverages on any single occasion. Those who reported drinking one (women) or two (men) alcoholic beverages daily are also considered excessive drinkers.

Washington County residents who reported smoking decreased from 25 to 22 percent to fall even with Ohio’s average.

Witschey said it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly would cause a reduction in drinking and smoking.

“It’s tough to say what the exact cause is, although we do have some good prevention and awareness programs in the area,” he said. “Selby General Hospital does a good job with their tobacco prevention program and are very active in the community.”

Regardless of the cause Witschey said reducing those habits is a step in the right direction for improving the health of Washington County residents.

“Those behaviors are risk behaviors and anytime you can decrease those it’s going to positively impact the health of citizens,” he said.