Last updated: March 20. 2013 11:56PM - 1763 Views

Luzerne County health-related demographics
Luzerne County health-related demographics
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Poor lifestyle choices and generally lower incomes continue to detract from Luzerne County residents' health, updated rankings released Wednesday said.
The 2013 County Health Rankings issued by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that Luzerne County is 57th among Pennsylvania's 67 counties. The rank is a slight improvement from last year when the county ranked 61st, but it still shows a need for personal improvement.
“We all want to live a healthy life, and the rankings show us that things like having a job, a good education, access to healthy foods or a safe place to live affect how healthy we are,” said Patrick Remington, co-director of County Health Rankings and associate dean at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
Adults in Luzerne County aren't making healthy personal choices, however. They tend to smoke more, drink more, be more overweight and exercise less than the state average, according to the rankings. In many cases, the county falls well below the national benchmark for health representing the top 10 percent of counties across the United States.
Low socio-economic status — including a 9.4 percent local unemployment rate and 26 percent of children living in poverty — drag the rating even deeper. The state averages in those areas are 7.9 and 19 percent, respectively.
The data fall almost directly in line with the Community Health Needs Assessment issued by the Healthy Northeast Pennsylvania Initiative and Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development in December 2012.
The Community Needs Index, which identifies the severity of health needs based on socio-economic barriers, shows the city of Wilkes-Barre, Wilkes-Barre Township, Nanticoke and Hazleton present the most challenges to residents in Luzerne County, according to last year's CHNA report.
Changes hard to make
Dr. Janet Townsend, a family physician and founding chair of the Department of Family, Community and Rural Health at The Commonwealth Medical College, said there is a growing recognition of the area's problems. Thankfully, there also is a budding sense of collaboration both in and out of health care settings to combat them.
“There's a tremendous potential in this area to be able to take on some of these issues,” she said. One that needs immediate attention, according to Townsend, is curbing tobacco use.
“Changing is not easy for any of us,” Townsend said, noting stressful economic pressures for families. “It has to be kind of person by person, but people do change more easily if they have support … I think it's at multiple levels — individual, family and community — that we have to have approaches for intervening.”
Environment lauded
In an encouraging sign, the county did score high marks for access to recreational facilities. The area is beginning to focus on creating a community where making a healthy choice is the easy choice, said Carol Hussa, co-coordinator of the Healthy Communities Initiative at the Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA.
“It's really about changing people's environments so it's easier for them to do healthy things,” Hussa said. “When you tell people they should go out and walk, if there aren't any places to go out and walk or your sidewalks aren't maintained or there are no local parks, it's really hard to get your recommended daily physical activity.”
That's not the case given the area's multiple county- and municipal-owned parks and facilities and programs that highlight them such as the annual Keystone Active Zone Passport Program. They also participate in other health-based initiatives, such as Young Lungs at Play, which helps communities build tobacco-free recreational facilities for children.
Access to recreational areas or smoking-cessation programs are small parts of a much more important solution.
“Health is more than health care,” Hussa said. “Seeing a doctor is just a piece of the overall health puzzle. It's everybody's job to pay more attention to this.”

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