Efforts to make Chautauqua County healthier are nothing new, but may be emphasized after recent reports placed the county among the worst in terms of state health rankings.
The most recent statistics, released March 26 by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, ranked the county 54th out of 62 in terms of health outcomes, a category involving mortality and morbidity.
Regarding health factors, Chautauqua County ranked 48th, which improved one spot from last year.
The health factors category consisted of subcategories including health behaviors like smoking, obesity and alcohol intake; clinical care, social and economic factors; and the overall physical environment.
"These rankings emphasize that promoting healthy communities requires that we address the social determinants of health, such as transportation, education, access to healthy food and exercise, behavior choices, economic opportunities, and more," said Christine Schuyler, the county's director of health and human services. "Health is overall well-being and touches every single part of your life, not just illness or wellness. It's so much more, and we have to look at all of the factors."
"Health is overall well-being and touches every single part of your life, not just illness or wellness."
county director of health and human services
In terms of illness, the county Health Department has coordinated the Community Transformation Grant in conjunction with the state Department of Health. This effort aims to prevent the occurrence of future chronic disease in the county by creating opportunities that will positively influence health behaviors of children ages 0-18 across a continuum of child-centered environments.
According to Christine Kemp, community health improvement coordinator at P2 Collaborative of Western New York - a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation organization - preventing chronic disease, the leading cause of death in Chautauqua County, starts early in life.
"There are many steps you can take to lessen your chances of heart disease," Kemp said. "Conglomerate conditions start decades earlier, such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol."
According to the March 26 report, 28 percent of adults in Chautauqua County are obese, compared with 24 percent statewide, while the county's Community Health Assessment classified 19 percent of all public school students across the county as obese.
Curbing the trend starts in the early stages of life, Kemp said.
Within the last year, the county Health Department secured a Maternal and Infant Community Health Collaborative grant, which aims to improve maternal and infant health outcomes.
Through the program, community health workers assist low-income mothers in accessing pregnancy and medical services to ensure better health through the baby's first year and beyond.
The March report found a high rate of teen births - 33 per 1,000 females ages 15-19 - compared with 24 per 1,000 statewide, while 8 percent of babies are of low birthweight in the county.
A plan is in place to create community support for breastfeeding mothers, Kemp said.
"Anything to help young women get over any barriers they might have helps to get a healthy start for the baby," she said. "It's a great way to get a good start for women and children early in life."
Additionally, 33 percent of children are living in poverty in Chautauqua County, compared with 23 percent statewide.
These statistics contributed to the county's overall ranking of 54th out of 62.
Clinical care was Chautauqua County's best category, in which it ranked 22.
"That's definitely something to celebrate, especially since Chautauqua County is rural in some areas," Kemp said. "A lot of rural areas have limited access to quality care, so to rank that high in a rural county is great."
Kemp added that the County Health Rankings model found that access to clinical care accounts for roughly 20 percent of what makes a person healthy.
"It's a small piece in a larger puzzle," she said. "But the access to care depends on consistency with best practices, quality of care and best options for conditions."
The health department's assessment found that 86.1 percent of adults had a regular health care provider, while in 2010, 85.1 percent of adults had health insurance. These numbers were relatively similar to the state percentage, but may differ when new Affordable Care Act statistics become available.
Preventive screenings and access to quality care contribute to prevention of the county's top three causes of death.
Behind heart disease, cancer was the second leading cause, with respiratory disease ranking third.
"There's not much we can do to prevent cancer, but access to regular preventive screening can help save your life," Kemp said.
In terms of respiratory disease, there are many factors involved, according to Kemp.
"That goes back to lifestyle factors including smoking, treatment of asthma and other chronic lung diseases," she said, adding that the University of Wisconsin study found that 24 percent of adults in Chautauqua County smoke. This number increased from last year and is 7 percent higher than the number of smokers statewide.
In December, the Chautauqua County Health Department released a Community Health Improvement Plan in order to set goals for a healthier future in the next three years.
"Things we have been focusing on with the improvement plan involve a lot of the same things mentioned in the University of Wisconsin study, such as maternal infant child health, and chronic disease prevention and reduction," Schuyler said. "Those are all issues we have. We have to take a much bigger look at what's going on here, and people are starting to realize that."
The University of Wisconsin study is available online at www.countyhealthrankings.org.
To view the Community Health Assessment and/or Health Improvement Plan, visit chautauqua.ny.us/241/Public-Health.