by Kevin Dahill
Patients and their doctors alike have known for some time now that lifestyle choices affect health. The research is definitive about this, and it concludes that lifestyle choices account for 70 percent of the incidence of chronic diseases – diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, even mental health conditions can link their origins back to what we do and don’t do as humans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that at least 50 percent of all adults in the U.S. suffer from at least one chronic disease and 86 percent of U.S. healthcare costs are attributed to chronic disease. Population health is a way of addressing healthcare needs from a broader perspective that takes into account all the factors, such as housing, nutrition, transportation, that affect the outcome of disease among populations. These are commonly referred to as the social determinants of health and are now generally recognized by healthcare providers and researchers as contributing significantly to patients’ health.
The healthcare industry has embraced prevention and education as a preemptive strategy to halt some of the more deadly consequences of uncontrolled and poorly managed chronic diseases. Through a variety of population health efforts, hospitals, health departments, community-based organizations, health plans, schools, and employers have joined forces to improve the health of their communities. New York State has even funded 11 regional Population Health Improvement Programs (PHIP) throughout the state. These entities are charged with helping communities better understand their pressing healthcare needs and then convening diverse partners from within the community to work together to meet those needs.
For many regions in the state, obesity remains high and it is a driver for all sorts of chronic conditions. The PHIP on Long Island, through the Long Island Health Collaborative, has been keeping tabs on the region’s obesity rates and recently released some findings from its ongoing Community Health Assessment Survey This tool collects primary data about Long Islanders’ health concerns for themselves and their communities. The data is used by hospitals, county health departments, community-based organizations and other social and health services providers to offer programs that best meet the needs of local communities.
In the group’s most recent analysis of year to year (2016 and 2017) community health data, it found that obesity and weight loss issues are of slightly less concern to the region’s residents. The obesity finding is a bit of good news for the region’s health providers who have been collaborating with public health agencies and community-based organizations to chip away at the obesity crisis. The New York State Department of Health Prevention Agenda Dashboard of health indicators shows that there is improvement throughout the state in children receiving an assessment of weight status at a yearly outpatient visit. However, the percent of overweight and obese children and adults remains high.
But there is lots more work to be done, admit the collaborative partners. Some of the partners’ current programs include tower gardens in schools, after-school recess programs, and programs to get people more active, such as the collaborative’s Are You Ready, Feet?™walking initiative.
Other results show that diabetes moved from the fifth most selected concern to the third most selected for individuals in Nassau County, with the need for diabetes screenings and education moving from the fourth most selected need in 2016 to the first most selected need in 2017. In Suffolk County, concern about heart disease and stroke moved from fourth position in 2016 to first position in 2017 among individuals. Similarly, blood pressure screenings and education appeared near the top of the list for services needed in the community.
These results and other reports are displayed on the collaborative’s user-friendly Population Health dashboard, which offers a window into the region’s healthcare landscape. The dashboard is an excellent resource for researchers, grant writers, physicians and anyone involved in providing healthcare and social services. But even a member of the general population can get a sense of the burden of disease on their communities by looking at the dashboard. A healthier community leads to a more robust local economic infrastructure and prosperity. Health is the undervalued connector, and patients play a key role in ensuring their own good health by adopting healthy behaviors and adhering to treatment plans.