Saturday, April 2nd, 2011
By Shelley Grieshop
A long weigh to go
Area residents in good shape, but need to keep working at it
  Grand Lake area residents get good marks for overall health, but the battle gets tougher every day.
Joyce Jansen, director of nursing for the Mercer County health department, said convincing people to care about their health isn't easy.
"We're not asking people to get a shot, we're asking them to change their lifestyle," she said.
Two recently-released surveys - County Health Rankings and the annual third-grade Body Mass Index (BMI) report - show area children and adults are overall in good shape.
"There's been a big push in recent years to get healthy. I think we're going in the right direction," Jansen said.
The County Health Rankings, tallied by the University of Wisconsin, ranks Mercer County ninth healthiest out of 88 Ohio counties. Auglaize County ranks 12th. The scores are based on four factors: health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic status and physical environment.
"You're doing a lot of things right," said Bob Campbell of the Center for Public Health Statistics and Information, which compiles data for the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).
Campbell and Nan Miggliozi, an ODH staffer with the Office of Healthy Ohio, said numerous factors weigh in on the overall health of any region. The availability of healthful food - at home, work and school - and recreation areas are important to each community's well-being, the pair said.
Educating the public so steps can be taken also is crucial, they added.
"Good education is important, as well as income levels," Miggliozi said. "The rankings certainly show this."
Communities with higher income levels tend to be healthiest, according to the statistics, because residents with bigger pocketbooks more easily afford gym memberships and healthful foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, Miggliozi said.
Delaware County in the Columbus area is a prime example; it's socioeconomic status is "very strong," Campbell said. It took top billing in the county rankings.
Access to medical care also plays a role in public health, Campbell said. Mercer and Auglaize counties each scored poorly for primary care physicians per population. Mercer County's ratio is 1:1,510; Auglaize County, 1:1,140.
Statewide there is one primary care physician for every 859 people.
Rural, less-densely populated areas often struggle to entice general practitioners and medical specialists.
Paula Detterman, CEO of Mercer Health, said it's an ongoing problem.
"It's difficult to recruit, very difficult," she said.
Medical graduates often are lured by the "bright lights of the big city" because the perception is rural areas have little to offer, she said.
The recent recession hasn't helped people keep a check on their health. Many people put concerns on the back burner when finances tighten and/or insurance deductibles rise, she said.
Experts agree that good habits must start at any early age. To track the number of overweight and obese children in the state, the ODH asks each school district to record BMI readings for each third-grade student.
Locally, about 32 percent of third-graders are considered overweight or obese - about one-third of the population. The percentage is similar to children across the state.
"Overall, the children of today have a tendency to be a little more technological and don't seem to play outside as much as they did throughout my generation," said Mary Lou Bambauer, a physical education teacher at New Bremen Elementary School.
Although she's noticed just a "handful" of students who need to slim down, she sees others who likely will struggle with weight issues throughout their lifetime, she said.
Ken Fisher, a physical education teacher for Coldwater schools, said the local area's "strong sense of family and working hard" keeps most children in the healthy range for weight.
"Kids around here are told to go out and play, go clean the garage or just help out around the house," he explained.
He records BMI readings for his students but does not send the information to the state - the choice of many area schools. Fisher does, however, give the results to parents.
Jansen said she worries about children whose parents don't restrict their diets or encourage exercise.
"We're setting these kids up for all kinds of illnesses and short lifespans," she said.
When medical claims increase, insurance companies raise everyone's rates, Jansen said.
"Everybody's affected," she added.
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