We fare poorly in health study


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When it comes to overall health conditions, Jefferson County does not fare well in comparison with state and national averages. However, our health issues involve more than statistics.

County residents are dying earlier than their counterparts in the rest of Arkansas, according to health data released this week in a Delta Regional Authority study. Critical factors from the study:

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

Women here lived longer - but still fell short — with an average life expectancy in 2007 of 77.2 years versus an average of 78.9 for Arkansas and 81.2 for the nation.

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 birth weight 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.

County adults with diabetes was 12.5 percent in 2008, compared with 8.1 percent in Arkansas and 7.5 percent in the U.S. That same year the percentage of county adults considered obese was 37.4 percent versus 26.9 percent in the state and 25.1 percent nationwide.

The percentage of 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.

The county was found by the study to have 232 physicians per 100,000 people in 2010 versus 242 statewide and 336 nationally.

We had 675 nurses per 100,000 in 2000 versus 900 per 100,000 in the state and 6,762 per 100,000 nationally.

The county was classified as a dental health professional shortage area in 2010 with only 34 dentists per 100,000; while Arkansas had 41 per 100,000 and the U.S. had 65 per 100,000.

The percentage of Arkansans under age 65 without health insurance is 19.8, compared to 16.6 for the nation.

There were some bright spots.

We topped state and national averages related to number of short-term general hospital beds per 1,000 people in 2008 with 4.8, compared to 3.26 in Arkansas and 2.66 nationwide.

Jefferson County had seven skilled nursing facility beds per 1,000 people in 2009 versus 7.8 in Arkansas and 5.4 nationwide.

And residents here actually have more primary care physicians per 100,000 in 2010 with 155, versus the Arkansas figure of 121 and the national figure of 126.

To see all the figures, go to the interactive database, compiled from a variety of sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Census, is available online at http://www.dra.gov/healthy-delta/hd-research-database/data-reports.aspx.

DRA officials stated they hope the database will help local organizations and governments understand the health care needs of their communities, work to address those needs and track their progress over time.

To treat a problem you must be able to identify and track the many challenges our residents face.

The Arkansas Delta is primarily rural with a declining population that puts additional pressure on the health care delivery services.

We know from practical observations that poverty is a major issue behind our poor health ratings. Many poor don’t believe they can afford or have access to health care even when many government-funded programs are available today to address many of the issues.

Fewer Jefferson County residents see a primary care physician in the early stages of an illness, instead turning to hospital emergency rooms designed for trauma care, not a cold or abscessed tooth.

Convincing many Jefferson County residents to see a primary care physician on a regular basis and addressing problems before they become life-threatening health issues would go a long way toward improving our health condition.