Bob Davis: Depressing figures about our big problem
Jun 30, 2013 | 2860 views |  0 comments | 81 81 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Paula Deen controversy sure has some Americans exercised.

Recent reports of the celebrity chef/entrepreneur’s racial insensitivities have detractors calling for blood. Some of her business partners -- the Food Network, Walmart, Smithfield Foods and so on -- are running for cover. Meanwhile, her supporters are rushing to her defense.

Me, I just wish more Americans were exercising … and eating healthy.

Whether you’re disgusted by her or can’t get enough of her, Deen, whose net worth is estimated to be north of $16 million, will undoubtedly be fine. (Honestly, how soon until she gets her own show on Fox News?)

The big problem facing the United States, Alabama and our little corner of the world in northeast Alabama has little to do with a TV chef. It’s about Our Big Problem, as The Star has labelled a series on the obesity crisis. The newspaper’s editors and reporters were pleased to learn last weekend that the series of articles and editorials captured first place in the public service category of the Alabama Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest.

Frankly, though, we’d have been happier if the series will help make our community healthier.

A meeting at Regional Medical Center in Anniston on Thursday was a positive step. The room was filled with doctors, hospital administrators, social services providers and others with a stake in tackling this big problem.

David McCormack, Regional Medical Center’s CEO, told the assembled we need to rethink the entire model of treatment. Hospitals treat the sick, many of whom end up there after a lifetime of bad habits start to take their toll. To put the community on a path of improved health, McCormack said, the aim should be to “keep well people well, and not let them get sick.”

This puts the focus on education (particularly with young people) and wellness, including picking up good health habits and putting down bad ones, the ones that McCormack said lead to “self-inflicted” illnesses.

To this end, RMC recently hired a health-assessment agency, Executive Resources, to analyze the health of the residents of the northeast Alabama counties the hospital serves.

The report’s statistics are depressing:

• Calhoun, Cleburne and Talladega counties’ age-adjusted death rate from heart disease is higher than the state and national average. “Most of the behaviors of the area population show elevated levels for all risk factors, including limited physical activity. Diet and lifestyle interventions should be the treatment focus,” the report’s authors write.

• The same sad dilemma applies in those three counties for the cancer death rate and stroke-related deaths.

• Compared to Alabama and the United States, the diabetes death rate is less in Calhoun, Cleburne and Talladega. However, in Alabama the number of cases of diabetes has doubled over the years 2001 to 2011.

• “Tobacco is the major contributing factor to premature deaths from heart disease, stroke, cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),” the report found.

“People are dying from preventable cancers, heart disease, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, and chronic lower respiratory disease due to lack of screening, lack of primary and preventive care and risky behaviors,” reads the report.

Let’s highlight the words preventable and risky behaviors.

“This needs to be changed,” the report continues, noting the incentive will be “pressures” on health-care providers “to simultaneously reduce cost, improve quality, and implement value-based payment programs which will, in turn, require organizations to examine how to best manage the health of their patient populations. Many of the strategies will be through increasing care coordination and preventive services.”

As both the report and several participants at Thursday’s meeting highlighted, Obamacare makes a priority of keeping Americans well.

That’s fine, but federal laws isn’t where the solutions begin and end. They must bubble up from the communities and their residents who begin to reverse these deadly trends.

“We’ve got to look at it as a long-term,” McCormack said.

That sounds about right. Our big problem won’t go away overnight, but little by little we can begin to shrink it.

Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or Twitter @EditorBobDavis.
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