Northwest News

Public health officials set strategic priorities

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Columbus Public Health calls them the big four: infant mortality, obesity, infectious diseases and access to public healthcare.

All are considered strategic priorities for the upcoming year.

Among the top concerns is the infant mortality rate in central Ohio, said Dr. Mysheika Williams Roberts, assistant health commissioner.

"It's an urgent matter for us," she said.

In Franklin County, the number of infant deaths, or babies who do not reach 1 year old, increased from 150 in 2010 to 180 in 2011. Statistics for 2012 won't be available for several months, Roberts said.

"Infant mortality in Franklin County is higher than the infant mortality rate in New York City," Roberts said.

Greater Columbus is far from meeting the federal 2020 Healthy People goal of 5.6 deaths per thousand in all health jurisdictions, Roberts said.

"It's very concerning," Roberts said.

"We're really sounding the alarm that we have to do more in our community to keep these innocent babies from dying."

The trend lines for blacks and whites overall had declined between 1990 and 2010. However, those numbers spiked in 2011, when blacks experienced more than twice the number of deaths -- 16.9 per 1,000 -- than whites, who had 7.1.

Roberts said there are several factors that contribute to the overall problem, including unplanned pregnancies, lack of prenatal care and smoking during pregnancy.

Columbus Public Health, with the help of local health providers, works to offer sufficient prenatal care, promote healthful lifestyles during and after pregnancy, and provide home visits and home assessments to maintain appropriate sleep settings, proper nutrition and a safe environment, such as smoke-free households, Roberts said.

Statistics also aren't very good for children and adults who are overweight and obese.

According to recent data in Columbus City Schools, 30 percent of kindergartners, 40 percent for third-graders and 47 percent of fifth-graders are obese or overweight.

Agency officials have worked with the school district in getting healthful options to students -- for example, installing water-only vending machines in schools.

Pudgy adults are a problem, too, as six of 10 are overweight or obese countywide. The percentage of Franklin County adults who are overweight and obese increased 13 percent between 1995 and 2010.

The health agency also promotes healthful eating through farmers markets, three of which are held on the grounds of the Columbus Public Health, and it provides walking maps in various neighborhoods and on the city's website, publichealth.columbus.gov.

As for infectious diseases, the agency continually stresses vaccinations for illnesses that can be prevented, such as influenza, diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus.

"Vaccines are a lifetime commitment," Roberts said.

Preventative measures -- such as covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze, staying home when you're sick and frequently washing your hands -- are encouraged, she said. Health outreach includes information about sexually transmitted diseases.

"We need to educate our population about the risks and how to prevent it," Roberts said.

That includes abstinence, use of condoms and having frank and honest discussions with your partner, she said.

Columbus Public Health is one of many local health centers that provide some low-cost care to individuals in need, with the cost of services based on a sliding scale. But patients' inability to pay will remain a barrier, Roberts said.

She said she believes the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, will help, "but it's not going to solve it."

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