Third in a series of articles offering information about the city ballot issue for November 6

The physical and mental health of town residents has far-reaching implications, impacting the vibrancy of communities and, ultimately, a community’s chance for survival.  And, when it comes to measurable health factors, Cherokee County numbers are alarming and dropping quickly.  “Recently released, statewide county health rankings show, once again, that Cherokee County is at, or near, the bottom of the most concerning health categories, a trend that we desperately need to reverse,” said Betha Elliott, County Health Department Administrator and Health Officer.

To break it down, according to County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, Cherokee County ranks 101 of 103 Kansas counties in Health Behaviors.  Keep in mind, 103 is the bottom of the barrel.  Health Behaviors includes physical inactivity and the overall obesity rate, as well as a county’s access to exercise opportunities.  With a 101 rank, our numbers are dismal.  Twenty-nine percent of residents are physically inactive, and thirty-nine percent of adults are obese.  Perhaps these numbers are reflective of the next statistic – only 42% of Cherokee County residents have access to exercise opportunities, compared to the Kansas state average of 81%.

Other measurable data includes Health Outcomes.  These numbers represent the percentage of residents in poor or fair health, as well as the percentage of residents in frequent physical or mental distress.  Also included in Health Outcomes is the percentage of premature death.  Cherokee County ranks 78 in Health Outcomes, again out of 103 counties statewide, with 16% of residents in poor or fair health.  Ten percent of Cherokee County residents are in frequent physical or mental distress.  We also have a substantially higher instance of premature death compared to both state and national averages.  And, every single one of these numbers means that healthcare costs in Cherokee County are 12% higher than the Kansas average.

Three-hundred and nine percent.  Let’s start with just the number.  Three-hundred and nine percent.  The Center on Society and Health revealed in May 2018 that Cherokee County had the largest increase in deaths from stress-related conditions between 1995 and 2014.  And, that number…you guessed it – 309%.  As if that’s not enough, Southeast Kansas was the only region, statewide, to show a significant increase in all-cause mortality, which raised a concerning 12% during the same timeframe.

The study’s results are clear.  This Kansas health crisis requires action by those outside healthcare organizations or their government affiliates.  The citizens of Southeast Kansas must work toward boosting the economy, increasing wages, creating jobs, reforming education, strengthening social support systems, and revitalizing communities.  The study goes on to provide positive solutions communities can enact to combat this frightening reality, solutions that cut across all sectors.  Specifically, communities that improve the material wellbeing and the health of families also experience increased educational benefits, increased workforce productivity, and increased social cohesion, and an increase in infrastructure and a community’s economic vitality.

However, doing nothing promotes a statistic that is also true.  According to the study, the neglect of disadvantaged communities, particularly communities that experience cutbacks that reduce access to healthcare and that reduce access to safety net programs, and communities that cease, as a whole, to invest in community prosperity, experience further decline.  This decline includes increased disease rates, higher healthcare costs for employers and the government, and unwell workforces that weaken corporate competitiveness. We have an exceptionally strong hospital and clinic system in Columbus, but as a community we need to do more to support healthy-living programs that promote preventative care and ensure a healthier and more vibrant population.

Article submitted by the Columbus Recreation Commission.