No jokes about public health


Riddle: What’s smoky, waddles and eats garbage? Answer: Far too many Arkansans.

According to a just released study, Arkansas ranks 49th (just above Mississippi) in terms of overall health outcomes. The study performed by the United Health Foundation, “America’s Health Rankings: 2013 Annual Report,” shows that the residents of the Natural State are content to swirl in a cavalcade of self-imposed and preventable public health crises.

Among the more notable challenges the report observes, too many of us still smoke — nearly half a century after it was first revealed that this is a freeway to the graveyard.

When parsed along racial lines, we see even greater problems. While less than a quarter of whites still smoke, nearly 38 percent of adult blacks do.

The same can be said of obesity: a third of Arkansans overall but 42 percent of blacks. This also folds into prevalence of diabetes: 11 percent overall and 14 percent among blacks.

When we drill down to county level data, the picture gets far more grim. With respect to the 74 other Arkansas counties, Jefferson County ranks 51st in terms of overall health outcomes; 52nd in terms of premature death; 67th in overall health measures; 69th in overall social and economic health factors; and 61st in terms of the safety of the physical environment. It also bears mentioning that we are worse than the national averages in almost every sub-category of these groupings.

When we examine the contributing factors, it’s easy to see how we get to this sorry state of health. Number one with a metaphorical bullet is smoking. Plain and simple, it’s time for adults to act like adults and break this poisonous, costly and pointless habit.

Then there’s obesity. While obesity and poverty are paradoxically linked, there’s no cost associated with eating less, eating better and walking a bit more.

We can then move into areas that will require shifts in public policy. These include poor workplace safety; lack of mental health care; lack of primary care physicians; air pollution; lack of health insurance; too few dentists; poverty; low rates of high school graduation and low rates of childhood immunizations.

Corollary to these lapses, the study observes significant problems associated with instances of Chlamydia; salmonella; drug deaths; violent crime and infectious diseases generally.

In short, when compared to other Americans, Arkansans generally and residents of Jefferson County specifically fail to take responsibility for their own health. While editorials are usually couched as matters of opinion, this sad telling is merely a recounting of empirically demonstrable fact.

This in turn begs the question of our collective future. We routinely act surprised when the outside world fails to invest in us, but we have clearly failed to invest in ourselves. By living self-destructive lifestyles, we give the rest of the world permission to discount us. As the old saying goes, respect is earned, not given. Our continued commitment to being fat, inactive, smoking and reckless suggests we don’t respect ourselves. Why then, should anyone else.

We are at a cross-roads in terms of public health. The path we elect to take will determine the ultimate social and economic viability of our community. If we expect good company to come, we had better start cleaning up our collective house.