County In Poor Health

Study: Gila most unhealthy in state

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Gila County residents die sooner and teens get pregnant quicker than anywhere else in Arizona, according to a new report.

Gila County ranks as the unhealthiest in the state based on a combination of smoking, lack of exercise, vehicle crash deaths, inadequate social support, obesity, child poverty and teen pregnancy.

But Gila County does have one thing going for it: the environment. The area has cleaner air, fewer fast food restaurants and more recreational facilities than the rest of the state, according to the third annual County Health Rankings released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute.

The study ranked more than 3,000 counties in America according to a variety of health measures using government data.

Many things factor into a community’s overall health, including where we live, how we are taught, work and play. While Gila County ranks at the bottom of measures — projections for future health place the county somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Holly Crump, health program coordinator with Eastern Area Health Education Center (EAHEC) and prevention specialist with the Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens, said health and prevention education is severely lacking in the community.

Although Yuma and Santa Cruz counties rank poorly in physical environment, their mortality rates are low — the reverse of Gila County.

Crump said she has worked with health professionals in Yuma County and seen a notable difference in the health outlook.

“There is a focus and collaboration within the community on health,” she said. “They have so much outreach. They have so much motivation and collaboration going on.”

New mindset

For Gila County to get in shape, doctors and residents need to change their way of thinking.

“We need to see more bicyclists, more walkers, we need to see more examples of healthy people,” she said. “We don’t see it modeled.”

That may stem from the county’s large number of senior citizens who are traditionally less active.

But Crump said it doesn’t have to be that way. Some senior citizens move to the area to live out their remaining days and so demand a lot of services.

“We cater to them without them giving back to the community,” she said. “We are not supporting those people we are asking to support us.”

In Colorado, Crump said there was a tax credit program for seniors who volunteered in schools. Helping out benefits both retirees and children.

However, Gila County’s overall poor health isn’t just due to the area’s large population of seniors, although that may contribute to the county having the highest death rate in the state, according to the County Health Rankings report.

The data shows Gila County also has some of the highest rates of tobacco and alcohol use.

Moreover, our rate of stroke deaths, respiratory diseases and overall cancer rate is high, says the Department of Health Services.

Sexual health

Sexual health is also in disrepair. Gila County has a consistently high teen pregnancy rate (40 per 1,000 females 19 or younger) — far above the state average and nearly four times the national benchmark.

In addition, the county suffers the second highest infant mortality rate in the state.

Most of women giving birth in the county are unmarried (62 per 100 births) and most are on AHCCCS.

Possible solutions include greater prenatal care, increased abstinence from smoking during pregnancy and sex education for teens, although Payson schools don’t offer sexual education programs.

The community suffers from a shortage of health care providers and has above-average health care costs.

Add in the state’s highest vehicle crash deaths rate and an equally high injury death rate from falls and the county clearly has a lot of issues to overcome.

Some of this stems from the area’s demographics. The county is primarily rural, with lower than average household incomes. Studies have shown a link between income and health status.

Most Gila County students qualify for free and reduced school lunches, have lower-than-average high school and college graduation rates. We also have a high rate of physical inactivity and more violent crime — especially domestic violence.

The Health Planning Report for Gila County by the Arizona Association of Community Health Centers cited a lack of knowledge about healthy lifestyles.

“... being grossly overweight, having babies as teenagers and smoking are community norms,” the study found.

Crump, who is the former director of the Arizona Rural Women’s Health Network, said the data solidifies her belief that women are key.

“Women start, steer and stop family health,” she said. “It has been proven over and over again.”

Comments

don evans 2 years, 7 months ago

SOOOooo, more of "The Government is here to help you". We will tell you how to live, what to eat, and most importantly, what to think. Some might feel all Gila County Residents should just commit mass Sepuku to appease the above government bureaucrats. Just what we all need, another Program that pay's agenda driven social engineers like the above, with our tax dollars. Their mass consumption of Tofu has depleated their brains.

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Lisa Jackson 2 years, 7 months ago

From a public health perspective, these statistics are more than alarming and incredibly tragic. With more and more people living unhealthy lifestyles in Arizona, the price of healthcare will only continue to rise for its citizens. I feel it's important that public programs exist to educate citizens on ways to live healthily, thus helping to mitigate rising health costs by keeping people out of the hospital to begin with. I'm all for government-run public health programs... they can work! We've seen them work in the past (e.g. quit smoking campaigns, seat belt laws, etc.). In any case, I would like to touch on one part of the article I found most alarming... sexual health. I would really like to see Payson High School adopt a sex ed program. It's "abstinence only" approach is clearly NOT working. I myself graduated PHS in 2003 with pregnant classmates. Having children is a blessing, but there's no arguing that having them at 15, 16, and 17 years old is not the right time. I hope PHS will get with the program and start educating its students on sex and the responsibilities that come with having it, etc. Let's be realistic here... teenagers are having sex in Payson! It's happening, so let's make sure they're having it responsibly. I live in NH right now, and it's a state that has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the nation... it's also a state that requires its students to go through sex ed in school. The correlation is obvious.

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