County’s Road To Improved Health Is A Long One

Quick, someone get Chautauqua County residents a gym membership.

The annual health rankings by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation paint a pretty grim picture of the county’s collective health. Chautauqua County ranks 59th out of New York’s 62 counties in the state in the category of health outcomes — worse than a year ago. The county has the highest rate of premature death in the state due largely to heart disease, cancer, suicide and fatal drug overdoses.

The county ranked 55th out of 62 counties in health factors, which measures subcategories such as health behaviors (smoking, obesity and alcohol consumption), clinical care, social and economic factors (unemployment, education and crime) and the physical environment (built environment and quality of environment). In the health behaviors subcategory, Chautauqua County ranked 59th out of 62 counties largely due to elevated rates of adults who smoke (24 percent) and adults who are obese (33 percent), according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveys. The county’s high teen birth rate of 27 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19 (compared to 16 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19 in New York state) also factored into the poor rank.

The county’s best rankings came in physical environment (22nd out of 62 counties) due to its absence of public drinking water violations, short commute times and a lower severe housing problem rate and its ranking of 28th for clinical care based on a lower percentage of individuals uninsured, a relatively high percentage of female Medicare enrollees who had received an annual mammography and an above average percentage of Medicare. The rank also considers patient to provider ratios and diabetes monitoring.

One thing that is evident from the rankings is that the areas one would think should be problems really aren’t. The county does relatively well having providers for patients, doesn’t have massive drinking water problems, has a less severe housing problem rate than other counties and has a relatively low percentage of people who don’t have health insurance.

No, our problems are behaviors. Too many county residents drink or smoke cigarettes or eat the wrong foods. Too many residents get too little exercise.

Chautauqua County didn’t get this unhealthy overnight, so no one should expect next year’s health rankings to improve dramatically. But, Christine Schuyler, county health and human services director, is absolutely right when she told The Post-Journal that these rankings are a call to action. Too many people are dying at too young an age, particularly in an age when health care is helping people to live longer in general. We can all do better.