W.Va.'s public health system could do more to address obesity, survey finds
05/31/2013 - The Charleston Gazette. By Lori Kersey.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Obesity is the biggest health risk facing West Virginians, but the state's public health system could do more to address it, according to the results of a survey released earlier this week.
Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed by the state Bureau for Public Health last year said obesity was the biggest health risk for state residents, but fewer than 10 of them thought the state's public health system addressed it well.
The public health system includes hospitals, state and local health agencies, and others.
The 2012 West Virginia Public Health System Partner Survey was conducted in November and December with 238 participants who represented various agencies including local health departments, community health clinics and nonprofit organizations.
The results of the survey -- along with an assessment of the public health system and a state health profile -- are open for public comment until June 28. Officials plan to use the information to make a health improvement plan for the state.
Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care and a participant in the survey, said to reverse its health problems, the state should invest more in public health.
He added that he didn't want to downplay access to care, but that public health initiatives like cleaner drinking water and tobacco taxes have led to longer lives for Americans.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and a survey respondent, said the survey confirms what health officials already knew: Obesity, like tobacco use, is a major concern and reason for health spending in West Virginia.
The state should aim to prevent obesity rather than treat the problems it creates, Gupta said.
In addition to health-care professionals, everyone in West Virginia needs to work together to reverse the obesity trends, he said.
The assessment was sponsored by funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gupta said state officials need to make obesity prevention a priority at all times, not just when the state has secured federal funding.
"This cannot be addressed [only] as long as we have federal funding," he said. "We need to make obesity and tobacco a priority that's addressed in the state beyond any federal funding."
Reversing the state's obesity numbers, like its smoking rate, will require cultural changes, he said.
"No amount of funding can cause that," Gupta said. "It has to be driven from within. As we take that approach, we must do that because we want to and we must."
Other findings from the survey indicate that:
• A lack of access to dental care, mental health and health-care specialists are the most significant barriers to health care in West Virginia.
• Uninsured and underinsured people and those with mental health problems are the biggest populations with unmet health needs.
• Besides obesity, misusing prescription drugs is the second-biggest risky behavior in the state, the respondents said.
The Bureau for Public Health also did an assessment of how well the public health system delivered what are considered to be 10 essential services. More than 275 state public health partners and 40 employees of the bureau were invited to participate. Participants included staff from the Department of Health and Human Resources and local health departments, elected officials, emergency management directors and nonprofit organizations. The respondents represented 20 of the state's 55 counties.
Respondents gave the state's public health system mostly failing grades for essential services. They graded the essential services on a percentage scale. A score of zero percent means no activity while 100 percent means "optimal activity." The respondents gave the following scores:
• Monitoring health status to identify and solve community health problems: 32.1 percent
• Diagnosing and investigating health problems and health hazards in the community: 69 percent
• Informing, educating and empowering people about health issues: 51 percent
• Mobilizing community partnerships and action to identify and solve health problems: 35.4 percent
• Developing policies and plans that support individual and community health efforts: 45.4 percent
• Enforcement of laws and regulations that protect health and ensure safety: 46.4 percent
• Linking people to needed personal health services and assuring the provision of health care when otherwise unavailable: 42.8 percent
• Assuring a competent public and personal health-care workforce: 29.2 percent
• Evaluating the effectiveness, accessibility and quality of personal and population-based health service: 37.5
• Research for new insights and innovative solutions to health problems: 21.9 percent
Reach Lori Kersey at lori.ker...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.