Our poor health

The goal of liv­ing longer, health­ier lives re­quires fo­cused ef­fort across the re­gion

The Buffalo News - - OPINION -

At least we know where we’re start­ing from when it comes to the com­mu­nity’s health: near the bot­tom. The news may not light the path for­ward, but it shows what needs to be done and pro­vides a base­line mea­sure­ment.

Here’s the hard fact: Western New York­ers die younger than oth­ers in the state and a lot of it our own fault: More of us smoke and more are obese than in other parts of New York. We’re not do­ing a good job of car­ing for our­selves.

To­gether with other fac­tors, what that means is that, the av­er­age life ex­pectancy of Erie County res­i­dents is al­most three years less than New York­ers gen­er­ally. And here’s the sort-of-good news for Erie County: Its res­i­dents still live longer than those in other Western New York coun­ties.

Statewide, New York­ers’ rates of ex­ces­sive drink­ing are higher than the na­tional av­er­age, as are re­ported rates of the sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­ease chlamy­dia.

Other fac­tors are at play, too, and are be­yond the con­trol of in­di­vid­u­als. High poverty rates, in­clud­ing child­hood poverty, af­fect health and life ex­pectancy, for ex­am­ple.

Each can cause a cas­cade of health is­sues. Poor diet can cause obe­sity, for ex­am­ple, and obe­sity can lead to di­a­betes, which un­leashes its own avalanche of ex­pen­sive, life-short­en­ing med­i­cal prob­lems.

If it’s not a cri­sis, it’s a use­ful bucket of cold wa­ter. But that’s not bad. It’s hard to find the way ahead if you don’t know where you are. This does that.

The fig­ures are new, but pre­dictable. They come from the an­nual County Health Rank­ings re­port by the Robert Wood John­son Foun­da­tion and the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin Pop­u­la­tion Health In­sti­tute. The re­port was is­sued this week. Its re­sults re­quire an all-hands-on-deck ap­proach.

Western New York­ers need to com­mit to health­ier eat­ing, for ex­am­ple, but ed­u­ca­tion and avail­abil­ity of fresh food are key to that. The same goes for smok­ing and drink­ing, even tougher nuts to crack given the in­sid­i­ous in­flu­ence of ad­dic­tion.

But things are hap­pen­ing. Phil Haber­stro, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Well­ness In­sti­tute of Greater Buf­falo, thinks the area is at a tip­ping point. Fit­ness ef­forts in schools and work­places are help­ing. Health ed­u­ca­tion at 10 area col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties are also mak­ing a dif­fer­ence, he said. The nec­es­sary changes can be years in mak­ing, which is why it is im­por­tant to fo­cus on early ed­u­ca­tion. In the mean­time, watch for changes. A good place to look is at our waist­lines.

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