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Tyler County Booster - Local News

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Healthy county ranking gives poor marks to choices by local residents

Tyler County Booster

By Valerie Reddell

Health behaviors, air quality, and long commutes all contribute to a growing number of premature deaths in Tyler County, according to the latest study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's County Health Rankings. Those choices currently contribute to premature death — that is, any death that occurs before age 75. The rankings are best on lifestyle choices and socioeconomic factors. The only factors used that relate to the community's health care providers are the ratio of providers to residents and the number of uninsured. Twenty percent of Tyler County residents under age 65 have no health insurance. In evaluating overall health in Tyler County, researchers looked at 428 local deaths. While the number of premature deaths are trending down slightly each year in Texas and the U.S., Tyler County is among a cluster of East Texas counties that are seeing a sharp upswing. To compile the data, using a method which gives greater weight to deaths of younger persons. When calculating the years of productive life lost (YPLL), a death at age 25 would contribute 50 YPLL, while a death at 65 would contribute 10. Overall, Texas loses 6,700 years of productive life for every 100,000 of population. In Woodville, the YPLL is 12,100, after adjusting for Woodville's smaller population. The leading causes of premature death were heart disease (120 deaths); cancer (97); chronic lower respiratory diseases (26) and intentional self-farm or suicide (15). Smoking was another major impact in the health of Tyler County residents. Using surveys and modeling data, the study determined that 16 percent of adults smoke cigarettes. Obesity rates also reduced the life expectancy of local adults with 31 percent reporting a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. Texas counties ranged from 20 to 38% obese, with 28 percent for the state as a whole. Residents may find it difficult to change their eating habits to improve that rating since Tyler County was given a food environment index of 4.3 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 0 being the worst, and 10 the best. Two factors were examined in rating the community's food environment index — access to healthy foods and food insecurity. Tyler County has a large number of residents who are low income and do not live close to a grocery store. In rural areas, the study classifies "close" as living within 10 miles of a grocery store. Low income is defined as having an annual family income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold for the family size. Food security means having reliable access to enough good, healthy and culturally appropriate food. A "food secure" family does not have to worry about paying for groceries, where their next meal is coming from or have to cut back on food to pay other bills. Food insecurity is measured by high food security, marginal food security, low food security or very low food security. Food insecurity does not directly indicate hunger. Families may have a high degree of anxiety about providing adequate food, but manage to supply meals by accessing community or family resources. Using this measure also takes into account whether the food being provided are items that family members are familiar with, likely to eat and can be prepared properly. The Healthy Counties study also found that only 40 percent of Tyler County residents have access to locations for physical activity. Further, 20 percent of adults over age 20 reported they had no leisure-time physical activity. All these factors contributed to Tyler County's overall ranking of 223, of 243 counties in Texas. This ranking puts Tyler County ahead of other counties in the region, including Polk, San Augustine, Sabine, Shelby and Trinity. The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The project's goal is to build a national Culture of Health that enables all in our diverse society to lead healthy lives, now and for generations to come

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