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Mixed results in new SC County health profile

Reports shows drops in smoking, teen pregnancy but increases in obesity and diabetes

Fewer residents in Santa Clara County are smoking and teen birth rates are declining, but access to health care has also declined while obesity and diabetes are on the rise, according to a new health report released Tuesday.

The Santa Clara County Health Profile Report examines the health of county residents and was released by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and the Community Benefits Coalition.

At a news conference in San Jose Tuesday morning, Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager said lack of physical education and poor eating habits are the main culprits behind chronic diseases.

"While there is certainly good news to be found in this report, there are two areas that are particularly troubling," Yeager said. "The increase in obesity rates for both children and adults and the continued decrease in health insurance coverage for our residents should raise alarm bells and serve as a call to action."

About 25 percent of students in middle and high school are overweight or obese, according to the report.

The percentage of adults who are overweight or obese increased by four percent in the past decade, and Hispanics and people with low incomes have the highest overweight and obesity rates.

Health factors that increase the risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes are rising and are a major cause of death and disability, according to the report. Heart disease and cancer account for more than half of all deaths.

The report also found a 10 percent increase in the percentage of adults without health insurance over the past decade. The percentage of adults who could not see a doctor due to the cost or lack of insurance more than doubled.

Hispanics and blacks showed the biggest disparities compared to overall county rates, according to the report.

Air quality also worsened, with the number of days rated as good dropping from 305 in 1998 to 192 in 2008, according to the report.

The report did have some bright spots, though.

Smoking among adults has decreased by five percent over the past decade. Teens are dropping the deadly habit, too, as indicated by a 2 percent drop among high school students from 2001 to 2007.

Smoking prevalence is higher among adults with low incomes and for Hispanic, black and Cambodian and Laotian teens, according to the report.

The teen birth rate also decreased from 37 per 1,000 live births for the 15 to 19 year old demographic in 1999 to 24 per 1,000 in 2008. Hispanic females have the highest teen birth rate, according to the report.

The immunization rate among kindergartners increased by five percent from 1999 to 2006, and condom use among adults increased by 6 percent in the past decade.

Data considered in the report included social determinants of health; mortality rates; health care access; maternal, infant and child health; oral health; lifestyle and behavioral risk factors; chronic diseases; communicable diseases; injury and violence; and healthy environments.

Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said the report helps community organizations target areas that require improvement.

For example, Steps to a Healthier Santa Clara County, a federally funded program aimed at preventing chronic diseases, focuses on obesity, diabetes and asthma and reaches out to populations that are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases.

The Public Health Department will use a $7 million federal grant it was recently awarded for tobacco prevention to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke; promote smoke-free colleges, campuses and workplaces; and require retailers to have a license to sell tobacco.

The department is also working to promote healthy eating and physical activity through public education campaigns and local activities such as the Soda-Free Summer campaign, which is designed to raise awareness about the impacts of sugared drinks.

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