Mixed Results In Worcester Health Report Card

SNOW HILL — While improvements have been made in areas like cutting down on smoking and increasing physical activity, Worcester County still lags behind state averages in several health categories, according to the Worcester County Health Department 2012 Report Card.

Dating to 1997, the county health report card covers everything from depression rates to frequency of rabies cases. This year’s results were mixed, according to Health Officer Debboe Goeller.

According to the report, more than 60 percent of the county’s population is overweight or obese, with obesity rates climbing and overweight cases dropping slightly since 2005.

Binge drinking is also a big concern, reported Goeller. Worcester widened its lead over the state average to a full percentage point, 14.6 versus 13.6 percent, in 2009-2010. Previously, the numbers had been at 13.9 versus 13.2 percent, respectively, for 2007-2008.

On a more positive note, reports of smoking are way down and on track to meet national Healthy People 2020 goals, which is the standard for all of the health assessments in the report. Since 1995, smoking prevalence has dropped from 25.3 to 15.6 percent in Worcester. This puts the county just above the state average, which was 15.1 percent while the 2020 goal is 12 percent.

Regular physical activity is on the rise after seeing significant declines. In 2002-2004, Worcester and the state average for adults with 20 or more minutes of vigorous activity at least three days a week were 27.5 and 28.9, respectively. While the state total stayed relatively steady, Worcester rates dropped to 22.4 in 2005-2007. The county numbers are back up at 28 percent from 2008-2010, right on the heels of the state average of 29.1 percent.

Communicable diseases were also a focus of Goeller’s briefing. While widespread epidemics aren’t common in rural Worcester, Goeller told the commission her department is always on the lookout for dangerous diseases.

Worcester is roughly on par with the state in number of reported flu vaccinations. However, because of its rural nature, the county is far ahead in rabies cases.

With the density of health care data to wade through, Goeller alluded to the fact that mental health can be just as important as physical, and thus is also gauged in the report card.

Suicide rates in Worcester, for example, while seeing a slight decrease from 11 to 10.4 percent from 2000-2004 to 2005-2009, are still well over the state average, which has held at 8.7 percent.

“It is something that we definitely want to pay attention to,” warned Goeller.