Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
CHEROKEE COUNTY —
Cherokee County and the nearby counties of Henderson, Rusk and Nacogdoches ranked among the bottom third of the 232 counties whose statistics comprise the 2013 County Health Rankings report.
However, “I think with anything, you look at what you do well, what needs tweaking and what needs our most attention,” said Chris Taylor, executive director of Cherokee County Public Health. “Your viewpoint depends on where you sit.”
Figures from the annual health snapshot of counties throughout the country were compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foun-dation and the Univer-sity of Wisconsin Population Health Insti-tute, which looks at 25 factors that influence health including health outcomes and policies and programs affecting the lives of residents.
The current data is compiled from information collected as early as 2004, and can be viewed at ww.countyhealthrankings.org.
Of the 232 Texas counties surveyed, Cherokee ranked 181.
“What I am concerned about most, is our general shift in the wrong direction on the majority of health factors rated in this report,” Taylor said. “What it means is that we have to sit back and ask ourselves, 'have we done our due diligence in examining the correlation between poor health and low or limited household income, high poverty rates and growing socioeconomic challenges?'
“The truth is, businesses want to move their employees to areas with good health outcomes, a strong public health system and lots of community support. Why? Because healthy people make better employees, better parents, better volunteers – no matter what their age, race, gender or financial status is. If we want the area to grow, the opportunity for good health has to exist,” he explained.
Cherokee County ranked low in the category of mortality rates – 175th. This area looks at deaths of individuals younger than age 75 – which the report says are considered to be preventable.
According to the report, 9,433 years of potential life were lost, per 100,000 population locally, much higher than the statistics for Texas (6,928) and nationally (5,317).
In the local morbidity rate category – which refers to how healthy people feel – Cherokee ranked 175th among the Texas counties: Locally, 27 percent of adults reported fair or poor health, compared to a state average of 18 percent and a 10 percent national benchmark.
Cherokee residents also reported 5.3 poor physical health days per month, while that number was 3.7 for Texans overall and 2.3 for U.S. residents.
The average number of poor mental health days ranged from 3.3 per month for county residents, the same as the state figure. Meanwhile, at the national level, that number dropped to 2.3 days.
Health factors play a large role in residents' lives.
In 2013, Cherokee County was ranked 205 in the state in this category, which is comprised of behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment subcategories .
In the area of health behaviors, Cherokee ranks 219th of the 232 Texas counties, posting the following statistics:
• Thirty-three percent of county residents are obese, with 30 percent of adults ages 20 and older reporting no leisure time physical activity.
Statewide, the obesity figure drops to 29 percent, with 25 percent of adults reporting physical inactivity; nationwide, 25 percent of the population is obese, with 21 percent physically inactive.
• Motor vehicle fatalities in Cherokee County are more than double that of the state average, and triple national figures.
Locally, that rate is 37 crash deaths per 100,000 population, while statewide, the figure drops to 15, and even further nationally, to 10.
• The teen birth rate – taken from figures of women ages 15-19 – in Cherokee County is 73 per 1,000 female population. In Texas, the figure is slightly less, at 60, while the national teen birth rate benchmark is 21.
Cherokee ranks 122nd among the counties for clinical care: Thirty-one percent of the county's population who are 65 and younger have no health insurance, slightly more than the state figure of 26 percent.
Nationwide, only 11 percent of people are without health insurance.
However, local residents have been diligent about diabetes and breast cancer screenings.
Eighty-five percent of diabetic Medicare enrollees from Cherokee County receive a HbA1c screening on a regular basis, while 69 percent of female Medicare enrollees are committed to routine mammogram.
Those numbers are higher than the percentage of Texans who are vigilant against these diseases: Only 82 percent regularly screen for diabetes, while 61 percent Texas women faithfully get their mammogram.
The national benchmark, however, reflects the best numbers: 90 percent are regularly screened for diabetes, while 73 percent of American women go for regular mammograms.
And programs like Alto Health For All, a monthly health initiative that provides free to low-cost testing and monitoring to residents, Taylor said, are among the best weapons Cherokee County possesses.
“Strong community programs focused on prevention are always the biggest bang for our buck,” he said. “Healthcare saves us when prevention didn’t work for whatever reason, but an ounce of prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of healthcare.”
His office works closely with such programs to ensure that help is brought to the doorsteps of Cherokee County residents.
“It’s always better when communities can work together (because) you always achieve higher outcomes. Public health is about examining current behaviors, comparing outcomes and building plans to improve those outcomes, whatever they are,” he said, adding that strong publicity and an awareness “that our health cannot and should not be taken for granted has greatly contributed to improved screening.”
Socio-economic factors also were studied in the County Health Rankings report, which includes stats for unemployment, violent crime and children living in poverty, among others.
Overall, Cherokee is ranked 193rd among the counties surveyed.
According to this year's figures, 8.9 percent of Cherokee County residents over the age of 16 are unemployed and seeking work.
The state figure – at 7.9 percent – is slightly lower; the national average in this category is at 5 percent.
Violent crime is assessed at 429 incidents per 100,000 population in the county, although state figures are slightly higher at 483 incidents per similar population.
Nationally, that rate is 66 incidents per 100,000 population.
The percentage of Cherokee County youths under 18 living in poverty is 32 percent, slightly higher than the state figure of 27 percent but more than double the national average of 14 percent.
In the category of physical environment – including limited access to healthy foods and the number of fast-food restaurants – the county ranks 164th.
Statistics reveal that eight percent of county residents who are in a low-income bracket do not live close to a grocery store, and have limited access to healthy foods.
Statewide, the number is about the same – nine percent – while nationally, that figure drops to one percent.
Unhealthy eating trends continue with the high number of Cher-okee County restaurants that are fast-food establishments.
Locally, that figure is 63 percent, compared to 52 percent statewide.
Both state and local figures, however, are double the number of the national one, listed at 27 percent.
Despite these statistics, Taylor said county residents are headed in the right direction, thanks to initiatives like FitCOUNTY Cherokee – which will host an April “Day in the Park” from 9 a.m. to noon at the Jacksonville Athletic Complex, 1923 Byrd Road – and a local movement to .
“I think we are off to an excellent start. FitCOUNTY Cherokee is a brand new social movement, (and) people are very excited about it,” he said, explaining how this can help create a culture change that impacts health and economy.
“And as we work with our local farmers’ community groups and other stakeholders, we are uniquely poised to take control of our physical environment.”
Two neighboring counties ranked higher than Cherokee County, while a third was listed below, according to County Health Rankings report:
Nacogdoches County is listed 167 among the 232 Texas counties listed: In the category of mortality, it is ranked 150th and 179th in health factors.
This includes 216th in health behaviors, 106th in clinical care 152nd in socio-economic factors and 148th in physical environment.
Just a few places below, Rusk County listed 171st. It is ranked 163rd in mortality, and 123rd in health factors.
This includes 174th in health behaviors, 114th in clinical care, 101st in socio-economic factors and 112th in physical environment.
Henderson County is listed 186 among the 232 Texas counties that make up this year's report.
It is ranked 201st in mortality and 108th in health factors – including 95th in health behaviors, 116th in clinical care, 124th in socio-economic factors and 97th in physical environment.