County health report finds strengths, weaknesses locally


WALLA WALLA -- The 58,781 residents of Walla Walla County run the gamut of health ratings, according the report released this week by county Health Department.

The area's health was measured in 25 ways, using a number of sources, including the state's Healthy Youth Survey, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey and the state Department of Health's Key Health Indicators.

"We're looking pretty good as far as the selective measures we took a look at," noted Harvey Crowder, Health Department administrator.

Nonetheless, Walla Walla County -- populated about 85 percent with Caucasians and a median household income of $43,144 -- joins the rest of the nation in needing to work on some things. Those include nutrition and the level of physical activity. Those two components alone are the driving force behind the lifestyle diseases that most plague Americans and account for the majority of Walla Walla deaths, Crowder added.

According to the findings, the county looks like it has plunged in adequate consumption of fruits and vegetables by adults, from a high of 36 percent of residents doing so in 2007 to 20 percent now. Washington as a whole can claim 25 percent of its residents eat the recommended five servings a day.

Equally important is looking at what can be done to promote adults moving more, Crowder said. "We're going back to basics -- how do we get people more physically active, what do we do about how we develop our cities to sure biking is encouraged, to make sure walking is encouraged, that people don't have to get in their cars."

It's an issue not unlike the use of tobacco, he pointed out. "Where we knew it was harmful for a long time before making a cultural shift to get people to not smoke."

Such a change is a "very, very, very long-term thing," Crowder added.

None of the findings in the 2011 report were very surprising to him, but there were some backward steps, the administrator said. "I'm disappointed our flu immunizations are at a level lower than it should be. Especially since immunizations are so readily available."

On the other hand, teen pregnancy rates continue to drop here, he noted. "We'd like to see that continue."

The report included the following data:


Chlamydia infection rate: The rate has stayed the same here and is less than the state overall at 272.2 out of every 100,000 people.

Adult physical activity: In 2009, 68 percent of adults in the county reported moderate or vigorous physical activity. In Washington state, 62 percent reported the same information.

Adult obesity: Twenty-seven percent of us age 18 or older have a body mass index of 30 or higher. That meets a goal of less than 30 percent of the population, according to the report.

Adult cigarette smoking: County residents are smoking less, dropping to 11 percent from 15 percent in previous reports and less that the 15 percent of the state's current overall rate.

Adult binge drinking: We've stayed about the same at 11 percent and better than the state at 16 percent.

Diabetic adults: We match the state at 7 percent and are in line for meeting a 2020 goal of 5.4 percent.

Poor mental health: About 7 percent of us reported two or more weeks of poor mental health in one month. That number is lower than in previous years and the state's 10 percent.

Prenatal care: Nearly 80 percent of Walla walla County's pregnant women said they received first trimester prenatal care. That puts us above the state's average at 77 percent and the 2020 goal of 77.9 percent.

Low birth weight: Five percent of Walla Walla County babies are born with weights that put them at risk for health issues. The number has stayed the same since 2003.

Teen pregnancy: In girls ages 15-17, there were 26 pregnancies, down from 32 in 2004 and nearly 31 in 2006.

Teen physical activity: Sixty-five percent of 10th-graders living here reported getting at least five hours of physical activity a week. In Washington state, just over half of high school sophomores said the same.

Teen weight: Twenty-six percent of high school sophomores reported heights and weights indicating overweight and obesity, meeting a 2020 goal of no more than a quarter of the same population at those numbers.

Needs improvement

Adult influenza vaccinations: Only 45 out of 100 people get the shot. In the state, the number is even lower at 41 percent.

Child immunizations: Walla Walla County sits at a 36 percent vaccination rate in children, which is an improved number but worse than the state and far below a goal of 80 percent.

Adult fruit and vegetable eating: We are at a self-reported 20 percent, down from 35 percent in 2007 and worse than a state rating of 25 percent.

Teen cigarette smoking: Six hundred 10th-graders in Walla Walla County reported smoking, a three percent increase since 2008 and two percent increase over the state average.

Teen sadness or hopelessness: A third of area 10th-graders indicated they had felt sad or hopeless almost everyday for two or more weeks in a row. That number is up from 28 percent in 2008.

Personal health care provider: Walla Walla County saw a loss in this area, with the percentage of adults who have a personal provider falling to 72 percent, from 83 percent in 2007-2008. Washington state beats us 78 percent.

Adult cervical cancer screening: Two-thirds of area women reported getting a Pap smear test within the past three years, A 2020 goal is set at 87.1 percent.

Health insurance: From 86 percent of adults having health insurance coverage in 2007-2008, county residents said 75 percent of them have insurance in 2009-2010.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at or 526-8322.


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