Allen County’s poor standing should get action

In the debate about fluoride at Monday night’s Humboldt City Council meeting, Dr. Sean Mc-Reynolds, a dentist, said that Allen County ranks in the bottom tier of Kansas counties when it comes to health. He’s right. Out of Kansas’ 105 counties, Allen County comes in at 94 in a recent report by the Kansas Health Institute.
The report is a black eye to our county; and sends a terrible message to prospective industries.

TO DETERMINE the ranking, health experts evaluated citizens’ overall wellbeing and compared them county to county.
When those rates are computed, the determinants — things that affect a person’s health — are weighed. These are things we have control over, such as,
* access to care;
* personal behaviors, such as smoking, diet and exercise, alcohol abuse;
* level of education, income and how good a support network people have from either friends or family; and
* our physical environment, including the air we breathe and the water we drink.
The bottom quartile of the rankings included all of southeast Kansas. Eight of the bottom 10 counties, were in SEK.
What, prithee, are we doing wrong?
Basically not practicing what we are being preached. Allen County ranks 102 out of 105 for exhibiting unhealthy behaviors. Too many of us smoke; abuse alcohol or drugs; are overweight; don’t eat right and in general don’t get enough exercise.
Despite access, not enough people get the health care they need including influenza vaccine, prenatal care, or visits to a dentist.
We’re also undereducated. Not enough of our citizens complete high school. This leads to high unemployment, children growing up in poverty and repeating the cycle.
As a county, we’re poorer than most, coming in at 81 out of 105.
Our most favorable ranking came in health care services, where the county comes in at 58, a little lower than the state median, but our best modifier in the group.

THE NUMBERS are sobering. And Dr. Mc-Reynolds’ point was that if Humboldt’s water were fluoridated that would help prevent cavities, especially in the developing teeth of children. It’s the poor, those who cannot afford fluoride supplements, or know to buy them, who are most at risk.
If we keep on keeping on, our ranking will fall further because our lifestyles will continue to perpetrate negative consequences, affecting more and more people.
What can we do?
Take the report seriously. Act to make changes.
Get involved with organizations such as Thrive Allen County in its efforts to create a safe and healthy environment through recreation, education and health services. Give of your time and money to organizations like Hope Unlimited, the Pregnancy Resource Center and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Allen County to help those abused or in dire circumstances. Join Allen County Crime Stoppers to put a stop to violence and crime. Support SAFE-BASE, a program that keeps our youth busy with challenging activities. Encourage the discouraged to stay in school. And push your elected officials to make their citizens’ wellbeing a priority.
As a region, we have to sell ourselves to attract new businesses.
But until we clean up our act, we’re our own worst enemy.

— Susan Lynn

N.B. To view the report, visit the Kansas Health Institute online at www.khi.org and click on “Kansas County Health Rankings 2009.”