County health agency works to lower disease rates in wake of report findings

The Arkansas Department of Health’s Jefferson County Health Unit is emphasizing the importance of healthy living habits in the wake of a recent report that found county residents to be more unhealthy than their counterparts in the rest of the state and the country.

The Delta Regional Authority released a county-by-county report Tuesday on the overall health of people in 252 counties and parishes within the eight-state area included in the DRA.

“Here in Jefferson County we are focusing on the causal factors that brought us to the numbers we received in the report from the Delta Regional Authority,” JCHU administrator Quranner Cotledge said. “From a community standpoint we are able to say this is how we look and we are able to see what we can do better. Tobacco is a leading cause of many chronic diseases and we have partnered with UAPB and local school districts to get students to stop smoking or to refrain from ever starting the habit.”

Cotledge said the health department has used the Stamp Out Smoking campaign on the UAPB campus to encourage people to quit smoking.

“If people want to quit and need help we urge them to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW, which is our healthline,” Cotledge said.

“We challenge students to eat healthier, exercise and stop smoking,” Cotledge said. “We are promoting physical activity in the schools. We have promotional items that we give away to promote physical activity. We are promoting walking as one of the easiest ways to become physically active and to promote a healthy lifestyle.”

Cotledge said the idea of personal responsibility is important in getting people to be proactive about their health.

“We sponsor cooking classes on howto cook healthier foods and how to purchase healthier foods at a low cost,” Cotledge said. “We show them how to cook foods so that the nutrients aren’t cooked out of it. The health of the community where you live is important when it comes to attracting economic development as well.”

Cotledge said access to health care is also extremely important.

“Preventive medicine is always better than curative medicine,” Cotledge said.

Study results

The Healthy Delta Data Report for Jefferson County contained a number of sobering statistics.

The average male life expectancy for Jefferson County residents was 70.4 years as of 2007, versus an average of 73.3 for the state and 76 for the United States.

Jefferson County women had an average life expectancy in 2007 of 77.2 years versus an average of 78.9 for the state and 81.2 for the nation, according to the DRA.

When it comes to overall health Jefferson County does not fare well in comparison with the state and national averages.

Infant mortality per 1,000 live births in Jefferson County between 2002 and 2006 was 10.9 compared to 7.9 in Arkansas and 6.7 percent nationwide.

Low birthweight births as a percentage of all births between 2004 and 2006 was 11.75 percent in Jefferson County, compared with 8.9 percent in Arkansas and 8.3 percent nationwide.

In 2008 the percentage of Jefferson County adults with diabetes was 12.5 percent, compared with 8.1 percent in Arkansas and 7.5 percent in the U.S.

In 2008 the percentage of Jefferson County adults considered obese was 37.4 percent versus 26.9 percent in the state and 25.1 percent nationwide.

The percentage of Jefferson County adults with high blood pressure between 2000 and 2006 was 34 percent versus 29 percent for both the state and the nation as a whole.