Report: Rising obesity, smoking rates primary health problems in Cape Girardeau County

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An analysis of data examining Cape Girardeau County's overall health shows the county faces problems with rising rates of obesity, smoking in general and smoking by pregnant women as well as a decrease in the number of children receiving full immunizations.

The report by the county's public health center was released Tuesday and presented by the center's directors, Charlotte Craig and Jane Wernsman. Health center staff pulled data gathered over the past three years from various sources and used 13 indicators to show significant findings and identify priorities. The organization will use the findings for a base while developing a strategic plan and goals for improving health in the county.

Significant findings include an increasing Hispanic/Latino population; higher rates of death due to heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer's-related causes; women 18 and older not seeking recommended annual gynecology tests; and a rising rate of juvenile law violations.

Findings were compared to statewide data and in some instances to the last county report, which was released in 2009.

Wernsman said Cape Girardeau County comes in 10th in the state for improving outcomes for the 13 indicators and 29th for overall health, according to Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health, a grant program that ranks counties. There are 114 counties and one independent city -- St. Louis -- in the state.

Wernsman said staff believe the drop in children receiving full immunizations may be due to several factors, one being that some parents are not making sure their child gets the recommended shots at age 2 all at once.

"Basically, they get behind schedule and don't get caught up," she said.

Another factor may be parent opinion about the safety of immunizations, she said.

Data showed that about 80 percent of Cape Girardeau County children were receiving all vaccinations on schedule, and that the center had 76 percent vaccination rate for clients receiving their immunizations there.

Wernsman pointed to a decrease in the percentage of people in the county classed as overweight as a possible contributor to an increase in the rate of people classed as obese.

"We don't like to think this is because those who are overweight are now considered obese, but that's what this seems to be telling us," she said.

That change, however, does not differ from statewide and nationwide trends during the past few years, she said.

Craig and Wernsman outlined the center's goals, which include increasing the immunization rate for all vaccine preventable diseases; decreasing illness, injury and death; identifying and addressing environmental health issues; enhancing data systems and technological capabilities; maintaining readiness in emergency and disaster preparedness and response; and for the center to be an efficient local public health agency with a qualified public health work force.

Around 25 representatives of local government, health care and community agencies attended the presentation and discussed the report's findings and priorities.

One finding that drew much discussion was the county's increasing Hispanic/Latino population, which grew 277 percent in the past 20 years from 300 in 1990 to more than 1,300 in 2010. While that increase does not differ much from the population's growth statewide, Craig said center staff members see the effects of the growth internally due to language barriers when some people come in for services such as pregnancy testing, to sign up for WIC programs and for pediatric or primary care. The center is attempting to train staff in Spanish and uses community interpreters, but there have still been issues because of varying dialects, she said. The language barrier could also mean a concern in a health emergency because some in the population could be hard to reach or locate since not all are legal residents, she said. Roger Fields, assistant chief for the Cape Girardeau Police Department, suggested creating a pool of interpreters to help the problem.

Fields and Capt. Jack Wimp said data showing an increase in juvenile crime may be flawed by a reporting error in which some crimes were counted twice.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

1121 Linden St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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