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Memphis & Shelby County show signs of getting healthier

I must tell you that I was a little nervous while waiting for the 2012 County Health Rankings for counties across the U.S. to come out last week.

Reneé S. Frazier

I must tell you that I was a little nervous while waiting for the 2012 County Health Rankings for counties across the U.S. to come out last week. During a speaking engagement, I told a crowd of 200 people I was confident our community was getting healthier and that the County Health Rankings would prove me right.

I opened my big mouth and told them all, “I am not worried; I know we have done better. We are going to move up for sure!” I’m proud to say I was not completely wrong.

The good news is we moved up in some areas, and stayed pretty much the same in others. Our overall ranking did drop one spot from 58 to 59 for all of Tennessee’s 95 counties, but I am excited we moved up from being number 77 in health behaviors in 2011 to 66 this year.

The County Health Rankings is a comprehensive report on the health of almost every county in the United States compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It tells us how we are doing in improving our health and our quality of health care compared to other communities.

In the past, our region has always been at the bottom of lists that show poor health. We continue to be seen as one of the fattest cities, with a history of high infant deaths and poor access to healthy foods in low-income communities. Community organizations and our government have put programs in place to address these negative trends, and this new data provides evidence we are moving in the right direction in various categories.

In Shelby County, adult smoking is 19 percent compared to 24 percent in Tennessee, physical activity is at 29 percent compared to 30 percent in Tennessee. Diabetic screening is now done 83 percent of the time when you visit your doctor compared to only 80 percent of the time in 2011. Mammogram screening has increased by 5 percent (53 percent) over last year, which showed only 58 percent of the women who should have gotten a mammogram received one. The health rankings this year also showed a slight increase in years of life for adults.

Now, we do have areas we need to work on. Obesity rates are still high at 34 percent, excessive drinking creates issues, and our overall social and economic factors such as high school graduation rates, unemployment, children in poverty, teen birth rates and sexually transmitted diseases are still in the bottom third in the state. We have to stay focused on efforts to move Shelby County into the top 50 percent of the 95 Tennessee counties, and I am convinced we can and will do so!

I believe we will do better because we are doing more to set a proactive and deliberate City and County healthy eating and active living agenda. The Healthy Memphis Common Table, the Shelby County Health Department, the YMCA, Healthy Kids and Teens, Game Day Baseball, employers, faith-based and community organizations, hospitals, and others continue to work together to promote healthier eating habits and more exercise. For example, farmers markets and community gardens can be found throughout our area supplying neighborhoods without grocery stores with fresh produce. The bike lanes commitment by Mayor A C Wharton has come to life, and he has declared Memphis a Let’s Move city!

In the coming months, Healthy Memphis Common Table will place on our web site a dashboard that tracks the work being done to create a healthier community and improve our County Health Rankings. It will provide a clearer understanding of where we are doing better and how what we are doing will help improve our health and health care. Building a new road to better health and health care is something Healthy Memphis Common Table is committed to promote, motivate, and drive!

Healthy Memphis Common Table celebrates what we have done in our community, and we are committed to doing more each and every day!!

(Reneé S. Frazier, MHSA, FACHE, is CEO of Healthy Memphis Common Table.)


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