Mixed results for health in Blair | News, Sports, Work

Blair County had its best health rankings — 40th out of the state’s 67 counties — starting 2009 at 63rd.

But that doesn’t mean all is well, according to Colleen Heim, director of the Healthy Blair County Coalition, who spoke about the results of the latest triennial assessments from the University of Wisconsin Institute for Population Health.

Levels of obesity, smoking and mental health issues continue to be issues in Blair, with obesity not improving and smoking and mental health getting worse, likely due to COVID, according to Heim at the coalition’s annual meeting Friday in Hollidaysburg.

Too many people don’t have the time or motivation to stay active and don’t have the money to buy healthy foods, according to the survey responses that generated the assessment results, Heim said.

Still, it’s encouraging that Blair, thanks to participating organizations, finished fifth out of 92 jurisdictions in the Spark America Fit City Challenge, behind major cities Cleveland, Akron, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, Heim said.

And it’s encouraging to see collaboration between agencies and community leaders on the issues of concern in the assessment, with a willingness Friday among attendees from social services and health agencies to join task forces and task forces, Heim said.

“There is a diverse group of leaders willing to come together,” Heim said.

Broadly, the assessment looks at two measures: health outcomes and health factors.

For both, Blair is in the second quartile among Pennsylvania counties—closer to the least healthy than the healthiest.

For health outcomes, the assessment considers life expectancy and quality of life.

In terms of life expectancy — or premature deaths — Blair ranks 47th among Pennsylvania counties, with 8,200 years of potential life lost before age 75.

For quality of life, Blair ranks 29th among counties.

Quality of life takes into account poor and good health, days with poor physical health, days with poor mental health and low birth weight. For all of these categories, except for low birth weight, Blair is slightly worse than the Pennsylvania average.

For health factors, the assessment considers health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment.

For health behaviors, one factor, Blair ranked 51st among counties. Health behaviors include smoking rates, obesity, food availability, physical activity, exercise opportunities, alcohol levels, driving-related deaths, sexually transmitted infections, and teenage births. The coefficient of 23% for smokers among adults stands out unfavorably, which is 8 percentage points worse than “USA’s Top Artists”; and the 36% adult obesity rate, which is 6 percentage points worse than the best in the US. Also seen unfavorably were lack of physical activity, which was 8 percentage points worse than the national best, and access to exercise opportunities, which was 41 percentage points worse than the national best.

For clinical care, Blair ranks 41st among counties. Clinical care includes insurance coverage rates, primary care physicians, dentists and mental health providers, preventable hospital stays, mammograms and flu shots. 41% are unfavorable to mammography screening, which is 11 percentage points worse than the best national indicators; and 45% for flu vaccinations, 10 percentage points worse than the best national rates.

Notably 7% uninsured, just 1 percentage point off the best national rates; and the level of coverage of primary care physicians, which is actually better than the highest national level of performance.

For social and economic factors, Blair is 25th best among Pennsylvania counties. Social and economic factors include rates of high school graduation, college attendance, unemployment, children in poverty, income inequality, children in single-parent households, social associations, violent crime, and injury deaths. Unfavorably noticeable is the unemployment rate of 8.7%, which is more than twice the level of the best national indicators.

The number of social associations stands out favorably, slightly better than the highest national level of performance.

For physical environment, Blair is 34th best among Pennsylvania counties. Physical environmental factors include air pollution levels, drinking water violations, severe housing problems, and driving alone to work, especially long commutes.

Among other local counties, Center ranks second in the state overall, Huntingdon ranks 29th, Bedford 39th, Clearfield 56th and Cambria 62nd.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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