Where We Live, Learn, Work and Play Matters to Our Health

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
"Where We Live, Learn, Work and Play Matters to Our Health," says Karen Chapman, MD, MPH
Director, Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County.

Recently, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released the fifth annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps tool.

An easy-to-use snapshot, it rates the overall health of nearly every county in the nation. Among Florida counties, Okaloosa ranks 19 for Health Outcomes and 10 for Health Factors.

Health Outcomes represent how healthy a county is while Health Factors represents what influences the health of the county. Although we remain among the top counties in the state, our rank has continued to decline since the first County Health Rankings study was released in 2010. In 2010, Okaloosa ranked ninth for Health Outcomes and third for Health Factors.

So what has changed? One striking change is the increase in years of potential life lost (YPLL) before age 75. YPLL is a measure of early death. Okaloosa had an increase in early death rate between 2010 and 2014. But of the top 18 counties for Health Outcomes in 2014, 15 saw a decrease in YPLL between 2010 and 2014.

In comparison to the top four counties – St. Johns, Collier, Seminole, and Martin – Okaloosa County residents are more likely to die from cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke and coronary heart disease. A leading contributor to these causes of death is tobacco usage. Out of the top 18 counties in Florida, 16 counties saw significant reductions in adult smoking. Okaloosa had no change in the adult smoking rate. In addition, the County’s low birth weight rate (babies born weighing less than 5 lb 8 oz) has remained unchanged. Okaloosa ranks in the bottom of Florida counties that have women who smoke during pregnancy. Smoking during pregnancy contributes to low birth weight.

Where we live matters to our health. Okaloosa’s ranking among Florida counties is dropping. For the past two years, your local health department has been working with local business and government leaders, educators, employers, citizens, and non-profit organizations to create opportunities to improve the health of our community. The road is long, yet together we can build a culture of health in Okaloosa where getting healthy and staying healthy are top priorities.

Beginning this year, you’ll see a new brand…Healthy Okaloosa – Lives, Works, Learns, & Plays Here. Under one recognizable brand, local community health improvement planning will continue to seek evidence-base solutions to improving access to care, improving levels of physical activity and promoting healthy food choices, and reducing or eliminating tobacco usage. Healthy Okaloosa activities have included organizing to launch 2-1-1, cataloguing over 100 parks and recreation centers available to Okaloosa County families, and launching “5210” in our child development centers. “5210” helps everyone understand the importance of healthy choices by focusing every day on the practice of four healthy habits.

I’m asking you to make a difference by joining the Florida Department of Health and our partners to continue the work to improve the health of our county. If you would like to join Healthy Okaloosa call Katie Cholcher at (850)833-9240, ext. 2387.

Okaloosa County Health Department addresses county’s health rankings

The Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County (DOH-Okaloosa) recognizes the value in measuring health outcomes and today acknowledged the 5th annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps tool released by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This study highlights the many community factors that influence health and uses established data, much of which is available from the Department at www.floridacharts.com.

Overall, Okaloosa County ranked 19 for Health Outcomes in Florida and 10 for Health Factors. Although Okaloosa continues to be among the top counties in Florida, the rankings have declined over the years. In 2010, Okaloosa was ranked ninth in the state for Health Outcomes and third for Health Factors.

“Sadly, Okaloosa County residents are more likely to die from cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke and coronary heart disease than residents who live in the top four ranking counties,” said Karen A. Chapman, MD, MPH, Director of DOH-Okaloosa. “Part of our decline in rankings is due to the fact that 16 of the 18 counties ranking above us have seen a reduction in the number of adult smokers over the last five years, while Okaloosa has remained stagnant.”

These rankings are a snapshot of the health of counties across the country and they emphasize that health is not a singular effort but a combined work in progress across all community partners. The Department works in collaboration with local governments, non-profit organizations, health care facilities, business groups, schools, faith-based organizations and many other stakeholders to improve the health of all people in Okaloosa County. These rankings use data related to physical environments, social and economic factors, health behaviors and clinical care.

Tobacco use and obesity continue to be areas for improvement in Okaloosa County. According to the County Health Rankings, 22 percent of adults in Okaloosa County are current smokers, compared to the state average of 18 percent. Likewise, the number of obese adults in Okaloosa County has continued to rise since the first County Health Rankings was released in 2010. According to the 2014 County Health Rankings, 29 percent of Okaloosa County adults are obese, compared to 24 percent in 2010.

“This isn’t a race to the top, but it’s important to realize we have a lot of room for improvement,” Chapman said. “Through our local health improvement efforts and community partnerships, we can help Okaloosa become a healthier place to live, learn, work and play.”

In Okaloosa County, the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) is designed to address specific opportunities for improved health identified by the community. DOH-Okaloosa has partnered with many stakeholders to implement initiatives to specifically address tobacco use, physical activity and nutrition resources in our community. 

“By utilizing the community partnerships of health care systems, employers, insurers, government agencies, and other organizations, we are better able to mobilize community support and coordinate community-based interventions for tobacco cessation,” said Penny S. Eubanks, Assistant Director of West Florida Area Health Education Center and Tobacco Cessation and Training Manager.

For example, the CHIP Tobacco work group members advocated for a policy change to the Okaloosa County School District’s Tobacco Discipline Policy. Previously, as in many areas, if students were caught using tobacco on school grounds they were suspended. This policy, while well intentioned, not only kept children out of school causing them to miss out on classroom instruction and credit for school work, but also did not offer them aid for tobacco cessation. Through partnerships with the Okaloosa County School District, a new policy was enacted for the 2013-2014 school year that eliminates school suspensions for students caught using tobacco and instead gives them an in-school suspension. Students are allowed to complete their school work and are now also required to complete a tobacco cessation education course before returning to class. 

Another CHIP work group is striving to reduce the obesity rate in Okaloosa County by promoting the quality of life of youth and adults through physical activity and nutrition. With this goal in mind, the members set out to document all of the free and very low cost physical activity opportunities in Okaloosa County. Work group members diligently logged well over 100 parks and recreation centers that are available to Okaloosa County families. The information gathered will eventually be put into an interactive map that can be shared with residents through various community organizations and web sites.

“Research shows that kids gain weight twice as fast in the summer, and those who are not involved in summer programs fall behind academically,” said Christy Wagnon, Director of Before and After School Camp at YMCA of Florida’s Emerald Coast. “It is important for us to develop community partnerships and work together so that we are keeping kids healthy wherever they are during school, after school, and throughout the summer.” 

The Department works to protect, promote and improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county and community efforts.

Follow us on Twitter at @HealthyFla and on Facebook.  For more information about the Florida Department of Health please visit www.floridahealth.gov.