Local health officials not celebrating climb in ranking
by Dennis Sharkey
Jefferson County’s overall rank of healthiness rose from 70th in the state last year to 51st this year but hold the celebration.
Jefferson County Health Department Director Beth Brown cautioned commissioners on Monday about the independent report conducted by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.
Although the county climbed in the rankings, Brown said certain factors ended up weighing more than others. She said fewer people in the county died under the age of 75 than the previous year and that may have slanted the results.
Other numbers are not so promising. Last year 32 percent of county residents who were adults were considered obese. This year 38 percent of county adults fall into this category.
“I don’t think that overall our community is healthier,” Brown said.
A new category was added this year to the study that tracks the number of adults who are inactive or get no exercise at all. Twenty-four percent of Jefferson County adults fall into this category.
“That’s pretty significant,” Brown said. “Obviously that is impacting length of life and quality of life.”
Brown told commissioners that the county is not alone. She said the numbers of obesity are trending higher throughout the nation.
“We’re an overweight society,” Brown said.
With these issues facing the nation Brown said public health departments are taking on a new role along with clinical care.
In the past the duties of a health department were to track disease and to protect clean water systems. However more duties are being added.
“Today we’re still tracking communicable disease. We’re still making sure the water we drink is safe,” Brown said. “But we’re also looking at chronic disease management.”
Most of the health care dollars in the United States are spent treating chronic diseases. Brown said the way to reduce those numbers is through prevention.
“Prevention really needs to come to the forefront,” Brown said. “If we’re going to save health care dollars then we’re going to have to prevent chronic disease from occurring.”
Over the past couple of months health officials have conducted town hall meetings throughout the county to see where improvements can be made or where new programs can be started.
Brown said they hope to have a plan to implement by the end of this year.
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