County Is One Of NY’s Most Unhealthy

Over the course of a year, Chautauqua County’s rank on the list of unhealthiest counties in the state has worsened.

The county is now the 8th unhealthiest of all counties in the state, while Cattaraugus County ranked 12th.

A report released in April 2012 by the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, an assessment by the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, found Chautauqua County the 13th unhealthiest of New York’s 62 counties.

This year’s report showed more adult smokers compared to the state average (23 percent compared to 18 percent), which has not changed since last year.

Adult obesity also remained the same, 28 percent compared to the state average of 25 percent.

The study showed Chautauqua County has more excessive drinkers, physical inactivity, death by car accidents and a much higher teen birth rate (33 percent compared to the state average of 25 and the national average of 21).

Janet Forbes, project coordinator for Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work and Play, funded through the state Department of Health and Chautauqua County Health Network, is optimistic.

Through a four-year grant, Forbes and her team have been working with the Health Network to establish community gardens, expand the Farm to School program and also make Jamestown a more walkable and bikable community.

The Farm to School program is an initiative to bring local food into Jamestown Public Schools.

“Cornell Cooperative Extension takes the lead in our county for the project,” she said. “The program supports our local farmers and improves quality of food in school lunches.”

Also, five Jamestown public schools have created gardens through the funding.

“Having basic gardening skills increases the likelihood of eating healthier food,” Forbes said. “When the children see it grow and see it served, they are apt to enjoy eating it because they’ve been involved in the process.”

In the coming year, Forbes expects to continue working in Jamestown and expanding into Dunkirk.

“Those are our two target communities with Creating Healthy Places,” she said.

In other matters, the health study showed Chautauqua County has a high school graduation rate of 80 percent compared to the state average of 77 percent. These numbers have changed slightly in the past year, the state average increasing by 5 percent.

As for children living in poverty, the rate is 31 percent, which is 8 percent higher than the state average and more than double the national average.

Twelve percent of the county does not have health insurance, which is better than the state average of 14 percent, and slightly worse than the national 11 percent.

In December, the Chautauqua County Health Department released a comprehensive assessment regarding the county’s overall health and developed an improvement plan in order to set goals for a healthier future in the next three years.

“The Community Health Assessment highlights the need for people and organizations from all sectors of the county – public, private, educational, nonprofit, media or philanthropic – to work deliberately and collaboratively to improve the public’s health through policies, programs and services,” said Christine Schuyler, county health director.

According to the report, the Chautauqua County Health Network will cooperate with local hospitals to identify ways to expand the sale of locally produced food along and educating community members about the positive aspects of a healthy diet.

The impact will then be evaluated to identify new opportunities for expansion of programs and access for low-income families to healthy food.

“The growing problems of mental health and substance abuse are new areas where we in public health plan to become more involved,” Schuyler said.

Poor behaviors and personal choices regarding tobacco use, food choices and level of physical activity feed into the problem of chronic disease in Chautauqua County, according to the report, which also found many residents suffering from poor mental health and self-medication for these problems.

Solutions included recruiting community partners to form mental health and substance abuse work groups and researching the incidence of street drug overdoses to determine the capacity to deliver effective detox services.

Strategies chosen to address the selected focus areas were a combination of existing and new strategies for Chautauqua County, the report concluded.