Healthy Lifestyle

Young male athlete jogging. 

JEFFERSON – Ashtabula County residents continue to be their own worst enemy when it comes to achieving and maintaining good health, according to a new report.

The latest Community Health Needs Assessment, compiled by local health agencies, revealed simple lifestyle changes could drastically prolong lives.

“Choices that Ashtabula County residents make pertaining to diet, exercise, smoking, abuse of alcohol and drugs appear to contribute to the leading causes of death and disease (in the county), “ according to the foreword of the report, co-written by Raymond Saporito (county health commissioner), Christine Hill (city of Ashtabula health commissioner) and Nichele Johnson (Conneaut health commissioner).

“Four of the five (causes) listed in the 2019 (report) are heart diseases, cancer, pneumonia and chronic pulmonary disease,” according to the introduction. “All of these leading causes are to a certain extent associated with lifestyle choices.”

Residents have apparently not taken heed since the last CHNA was issued in 2016. In that report, just like the update, heart disease, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were leading causes of death.

“Thus, there are no major changes in the leading causes of death between the 2016 and 2019 (reports),” the co-authors wrote.

The 2019 updated report will be officially released at a public meeting to be 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 25 at Grand River Academy, 3042 College St., Austinburg.

The Ohio Department of Health requires a health assessment of every county every three years. Assessments have been done for the past 25 years, Saporito said. Committees to address the health needs outlined in reports have been in the place for more than 20 years, he said.

Data contained in the report comes from a variety of governmental sources, including the U.S. Census, the Centers for Disease Control. Surveys conducted of residents also provided insight and into local perceptions of health care and wellness-related concerns, Saporito said.

The Hospital Council of Northwest Ohio gathered the hard numbers and devised the surveys that gleaned the information used in the health assessment.

The 130-page report is packed with statistics and analysis regarding physical and mental health, as well as data regarding Ashtabula and Conneaut. According to the report, the county has seen some gains — as well as some setbacks — since the last health assessment in 2016.

Still, the county's figures vary little from numbers recorded elsewhere in Ohio, Saporito said. “Ashtabula County's health problems are very similar to the state's,” he said.

The entire report can be found at ashtabulacountyhealth.com, the county department's website. To locate the report, click on the administrative option among the choices atop the home page.

Here's a small sample of the findings, along with a comparison to the 2016 county report as well as state and national numbers:

Other findings: Residents' misuse of prescription drugs over the past six months has dipped slightly, from 4 percent in the 2016 report to 3 percent in the 2019 update.

The report also indicates the number of residents diagnosed with diabetes is virtually unchanged (13 percent in 2019 and 2016), as well as asthma (18 percent in 2019, 19 percent in 2016)

Disturbingly, the report revealed a big jump in the number of residents surveyed who believe their quality of life has been limited in some way because of physical, mental or emotional problems. More than half, some 54 percent, fell that way, compared to 36 percent in the 2016 report.

The committees that have met regularly to find ways to combat these health problems will finalize a improvement plan on Sept. 10, two weeks ahead of the public unveiling of the report, Saporito said.

Some of the group's work involves gauging the effectiveness of agencies and organizations geared to dealing with specific issues, he said.

“We've looked at the plan itself to see what programs remain relevant and to see if there are any new ones,” Saporito said.

The improvement process is fluid and can switch gears to provide extra attention to “new health problems deemed a priority,” Saporito said. Committees, for example, shifted their efforts when the opioid crisis – unheard of just a few years ago – reared its ugly head..

The CDC, quoted in the 2019 report, singles out a number of ways to improve the health of rural Americans: anti-smoking campaigns, screenings for high blood pressure, promotion of healthy eating habits and the value of exercise, extra support for families who have children with mental, behavioral or development disorders and safer prescribing of opioids for pain management.

In months to come, committee members will examine the latest county health assessment and decide “realistically what can we improve on,” Saporito said.

Some of the categories showed improvement compared to the 2016 report, but there is always room for improvement,” Saporito said. Health problems caused by lifestyle choices will require plenty of education, he said.

“These problems didn't get here overnight and won't go away overnight,” Saporito said. “Am I encouraged? Yes and no. We still have a ways to go.”

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