February 24, 2024

Blair County had its best-ever showing in health rankings — 40th place among the state’s 67 counties — having started in 2009 in 63rd place.

That doesn’t mean all is well, however, according to Coleen Heim, director of the Healthy Blair County Coalition, who spoke about the results of the most recent of the every-three-year assessments by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Levels of obesity, smoking and mental health problems continue to be issues in Blair, with obesity not improving and smoking and mental health getting worse, possibly because of COVID, according to Heim at the coalition’s annual meeting Friday in Hollidaysburg.

Too many people lack time or motivation to stay active and lack the money to buy healthy foods, according to the survey responses that generate the assessment results, Heim said.

Still, it’s heartening that Blair, on the strength of participating organizations, finished fifth out of 92 jurisdictions in a Spark America Fit City Challenge, behind the big cities of Cleveland, Akron, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, Heim said.

And it’s heartening to see collaboration among agencies and community leaders on the issues of concern in the assessment, with willingness Friday among attendees from social service and health care agencies to sign on with working groups and task forces, Heim said.

“There’s a diverse group of leaders willing to come together,” Heim said.

On the broadest level, the assessment considers two measures: health outcomes and health factors.

For both, Blair is in the second quartile among Pennsylvania counties — closer to the least healthy than the healthiest.

For health outcomes, the assessment considers length of life and quality of life.

For length of life — or premature deaths — Blair ranks 47th best among Pennsylvania counties, with 8,200 years of potential life lost before age 75.

For quality of life, Blair ranks 29th best among the counties.

Quality of life takes into consideration poor and fair health, poor physical health days, poor mental health days and low birthweight. For all these categories except low birthweight, Blair is a bit worse than the Pennsylvania average.

For health factors, the assessment considers health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and the physical environment.

For health behaviors, one of the factors, Blair ranks 51st best among the counties. Health behaviors include rates for smoking, obesity, the availability of food, physical activity, exercise opportunities, drinking levels, alcohol-related driving deaths, sexually transmitted infections and teen births. Unfavorably notable are the 23% rate for adult smoking, which is 8 percentage points worse than “top U.S. performers”; and the 36% rate for adult obesity, which is 6 percentage points worse than the top U.S. performers. Also unfavorably notable are physical inactivity, which is 8 percentage points worse than national best performers and access to exercise opportunities, which is 41 percentage points worse than national best performers.

For clinical care, Blair ranks 41st best among the counties. Clinical care includes rates for insurance coverage, primary care doctors, dentists and mental health providers, preventable hospital stays, mammography screenings and flu vaccinations. Unfavorably notable are 41% for mammography screening, which is 11 percentage points worse than the top national performers; and 45% for flu vaccinations, which is 10 percentage points worse than the top national performers.

Favorably notable are the 7% uninsured, just 1 percentage points off the top national performers; and the level of primary care doctor coverage, which is actually better than the top national performance level.

For social and economic factors, Blair is 25th best among Pennsylvania counties. Social and economic factors include rates of high school graduation, college attendance, unemployment, children in poverty, income inequality, children in single-parent households, social associations, violent crime and deaths from injury. Unfavorably notable is the unemployment rate of 8.7%, more than twice the rate for the best national performers.

Favorably notable is the number of social associations, slightly better than the top national performance level.

For the physical environment, Blair is 34th best among Pennsylvania counties. Physical environment factors include rates for air pollution, drinking water violations, severe housing problems and driving alone to work, especially on long commutes.

Among other local counties, Centre ranks second in the state overall, Huntingdon ranks 29th, Bedford 39th, Clearfield 56th and Cambria 62nd.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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