Few people like to be told what to do. We’d much rather be in control of our lives and make our own decisions.
The latest Douglas County health rankings tell us what we collectively ought to do: smoke less, eat less and exercise more.
Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to decide whether we’ll do just that or do the opposite. We get to be in control.
If we think of our futures, our decisions might be different than if we think of satisfaction at any particular moment.
Likewise, if we think as a member of a family, or as community, and the impression we give to the outside world, we might make the healthier decision.
The health rankings, which give a score to every county in the nation, put Douglas County 30th out of the 33 counties measured in Oregon. Our county improved by two places since the 2012 rankings were announced by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The improvement, unfortunately, had little to do with better health among our residents.
The biggest jump occurred in clinical care, which showed a slightly better ratio of primary care doctors to residents and that a few more people have health insurance.
The increase in the number of insured could be a result of Affordable Care Act provisions that allow young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26.
Further implementation of the federal health care law should boost the quantity of insured residents even more for next year’s report.
Simply having health insurance isn’t enough, however. It must translate to getting preventive care to help avoid chronic diseases later in life.
County residents actually do a good job of getting screened for diabetes — 86 percent compared to 90 percent statewide — and for having mammograms. That’s encouraging. The next step would be taking more steps, literally. Walking is great exercise and accessible to nearly everyone.
The health report rightly recognizes that we have a healthy physical environment. We rank high for clean air and water and our access to recreational facilities is good, putting us in the top half of all the counties in the state.
Making other moves, like quitting smoking, is tougher than taking a walk in the park. Breaking that habit, however, immediately improves the health of the smoker. But in Douglas County, 26 percent of residents continue to smoke.
Roseburg physician Bob Dannenhoffer points out that doctors must perform thousands of screenings to prevent a single death from breast cancer, but a doctor who successfully helps three or four people stop smoking probably saves one of their lives.
We know it’s not easy to stop smoking, but there are incentives for those who do, and plenty of people willing to help.
Before next year’s rankings come out, we need to see the number of smokers reduced.
Encourage someone you know to kick the habit.