Rise in obesity, smoking, cancer deaths is troubling.
The comprehensive community health assessment report for Macon County was presented Wednesday at a full partnership meeting at Macon Bank’s Corporate Center, reviewing the findings and offering recommendations on what county officials and volunteers can do to enhance the quality of living in Macon County. The report outlined the county’s top priorities in terms of improving the community’s overall health, while also analyzing the pervasive health problems within the county and their root causes. The last report was conducted in 2007. The state mandates the study every four years.
Kathy McGaha, Quality Program Manager at Macon County’s Public Health Department, illustrated the findings associated with the report in an hour long Power Point presentation.
Healthy Carolinians of Macon County (HCMC), an organization comprised of county civic leaders and volunteers, conducted the study, which took approximately 12 months to complete. The county’s Board of Health submitted their findings to the state on Monday, Nov. 28. A copy of the report can be accessed online by clicking on the Healthy Carolinians tab at www.maconnc.org.
The study was quite thorough, utilizing quantitative and qualitative research methods to accurately assess the quality of health of Macon County’s residents. The group compiled and gauged key health statistics of the county, emphasizing trends and making comparisons to peer counties throughout North Carolina. The study hired a consultant to conduct a randomized research study of 401 adults in Macon County, interviewing the citizens via telephone to evaluate their health status.
The group also engaged eight different focus groups, including businesses that networked with the Chamber of Commerce, Senior Center caregivers, three high school classes, Hispanic residents, medical leaders, and citizens in the Highlands community. The group reached out to key stakeholder groups as well, such as Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman and Jim Bruckner, Macon County’s Public Health Director.
After finalizing their research results, members of HCMC set their priorities for the next four years. The group’s findings revealed some fairly concerning statistics about the health and lifestyles of some Maconians.
Alarmingly, 70 percent of the 401 telephone respondents told the interviewee that they were either overweight or obese. The statistic reveals the problem of obesity in Macon County, an epidemic across America, and is why HCMC listed alleviating the problem of obesity as their number one priority going forward. The group hopes to focus more on the issue in order to “reduce the incidence of preventable chronic diseases related to obesity, particularly diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, according to their detailed report. The report showed, through health assessments conducted at schools by the Macon County public health department, that 21.9 percent of elementary school children in Macon County were obese. Moreover, when McGaha questioned the attendees at the conference about what they could do to alleviate obesity in the county, several people suggested that parents had to take on more responsibility to ensure their children were partaking in healthy activities, as well as actively engage in conversations with one another to make the obesity topic less taboo. In the telephone survey, 24 percent of respondents said that they either rarely or never exercised, while 21 percent of respondents stated that they exercised every day.
The report indicated that increased education efforts, such as the health department’s initiatives at area schools, could go a long way in preventing obesity rates from rising among Macon County’s youth, as well as adults. These efforts could also pay huge dividends in reducing the number of people who smoke in Macon County, as the HCMC report highlighted the fact that 17 percent of Macon County’s adult population are smokers, roughly equal to other areas in the southeastern United States.
HCMC’s telephone survey revealed that an astounding 29 percent of Maconians in the 18-34 age group were smokers, and 50 percent of smokers county-wide told HCMC that they made an attempt to quit the habit at least once in the past year. About 32 percent of respondents from the 18-34 age group also admitted to consuming five or more drinks in one day during the past year. The latter statistics are worrisome, considering the reports findings on obesity.
Priority number two pertained to the “recruitment and retention of additional primary care physicians and dental practitioners serving Macon County residents.” Jim Bruckner recently testified to commissioners about the difficulty of getting a full time dentist to work in the county’s adult dental program, citing competition in the private market which makes it difficult for the county to provide a sufficient amount of pay relative to private practices.
The assessment showed that from between 2004-2008, the county has kept an average of about 9.6 per 10,000 population of primary care physicians , which is nearly equivalent to the statewide average. McGaha noted the importance of retention, as Macon County has seen a number of physicians and dentists leave the area for a variety of reasons in the past four years. In the telephone surveys conducted by HCMC from 2007 to 2011, the number of respondents reporting that they were uninsured increased from 17 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2011 as well, a key variable that lends credence to the HCMC making this initiative a top priority.
McGaha added that the expansion of the free health clinic in Franklin did extend care to the uninsured, while mentioning that access to specialists and dental practitioners have become even more difficult to come by in the recent past. In the telephone survey, 26 percent of respondents said they delayed dental care in the past year because they could not afford it, as 43 percent of respondents earning less than $25,000 per year stated that they have not seen a dentist in the past two to five years, demonstrating a strong correlation between income and access to dental care in Macon County.
Another priority for HCMC is to “reduce the incidence and mortality rates of breast, colon, and lung cancer through prevention and early intervention efforts. All of HCMC’s priorities are inextricably linked to each other, as the outcomes of one priority will undoubtedly influence the outcomes of a corresponding priority. This makes the initiatives laid out in the report even more important to accomplish to members of HCMC.
An interesting trend mentioned in the report is that over a fifteen year period, cancer deaths in Macon County have increased, whereas cancer deaths in other peer counties are declining. The death rate per 100,000 residents in Macon County went from 188.9 between 1994-1998 to 170.1 from 1999-2002. However, the rate increased to 180.1 from 2004-2008, prompting members of the HCMC to make this a top priority for the next four years. Other secondary priorities mentioned in the report encompass end-of-life care, access for the uninsured, suicide/ mental health, smoking, and youth and family issues.
For more information about the community health assessment report for 2011, contact Dawn Wilde, the county’s community health promotion supervisor, at (828)-349-2426.