Meadville Tribune

Our Health

August 15, 2011

Oral health, personal safety key issues in Crawford County

MEADVILLE — Lack of access to oral health services, and general personal safety concerns are among the key issues identified through the preliminary results of the Crawford Health Needs Assessment.

Currently, less than 1,000 people have submitted their responses to the health assessment. To have an accurate picture of the health needs throughout the county, the assessment team would like to have 10 percent of the county’s population respond to its survey, which is available online at surveymonkey.com/s/crawfordcountyhealth. Because the survey is performed through SurveyMonkey, only one response is permitted per computer; therefore, the assessment team is encouraging phone calls to receive paper surveys or complete the 12-minute survey via phone.

County residents are urged to call Jessica Chase at (814) 333-1762 or Max Lindquist at (814) 333-1758. All information is confidential and neither your name nor phone number will not be taken for any purpose. You can also find the assessment team at the Crawford County Fair next week.

According to these preliminary results, nearly 30 percent of the respondents said they have either found it difficult finding dental care that is affordable or that they lack dental insurance. In addition, nearly one-quarter of the respondents noted that their employer doesn’t offer dental insurance.

Oral health is a serious concern, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is often taken for granted. The CDC reports that oral diseases often afflict those in lower-income brackets because they cannot afford or find appropriate care. Gum disease that results from poor oral hygiene is also a serious problem and if left untreated could lead to other health issues.

The CDC reports links between oral infections and diabetes, heart disease, stroke and premature and low-weight births. A common and easy fix for all residents of a community is through water fluoridation — something lacking in Meadville as well as other parts of Crawford County.

Poverty concerns

The second issue revealed in the assessment’s preliminary results revolved around four key community safety concerns. First, nearly 85 percent of the respondents stated that they believe poverty is prevalent throughout Crawford County. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the citizens of Crawford County have an accurate view of the area’s poverty status. The percentage of people living below poverty in Crawford County is 16.2, which is far above the state’s poverty percentage of 12.5. It is also higher than the national average of people living below the poverty level, which is 14.3 percent.

With approximately 88,800 people living in Crawford County, the number of people surviving at or below the poverty level is an astounding 14,300! Poverty and poor health are strongly linked, mainly because those living in poverty cannot afford or access the health care system. In addition, studies have shown that those in poverty often will wait until a health problem is beyond cure before seeking assistance. Preventative care is generally not a consideration for those living in poverty due to a lack of financial resources.

Also revealed in the assessment was the belief that underage drinking is a serious issue in Crawford County. Interestingly, the Crawford County Drug and Alcohol Commission has been working on a social norms campaign at the high school and college levels to dispel rumors of the prevalence of underage drinking. Contrary to the popular belief that underage drinking is widespread, the CCDAC found that this is truly not the case. Less than 10 percent of the underage population participates in underage drinking with the majority adhering to the law and sound personal principals.

The social norms campaign has been successful in preventing young people from trying alcohol because they believe “it is what everyone is doing.” Because it is NOT what young people are doing, the perception of underage drinking issues must be changed. Students across the county are working closely with the CCDAC to reveal the truth about underage drinking in Crawford County.

Distracted driving

Another issue unveiled through the health assessment was that 77 percent of the respondents admitted to talking on a cell phone while driving, with 36 percent stating they texted while driving over the past year. Distracted driving is a serious health and safety concern. Driving requires full attention. While we are a population of multi-taskers, driving while distracted in any form can cause serious injury or death to you or someone else.

According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, 16 percent of all fatal crashes from 2008 were due to distracted driving. Only 24 states have banned texting while driving for all drivers, with nine states banning the practice for novice drivers. That leaves 17 states, including Pennsylvania, which allows the practice of texting while driving. Of interest, the bus driver who drives your child to school every day could legally text while driving that bus — with your children on board!

The concern revealed from nationwide statistics as well as through our own health assessment shows that distracted driving is prevalent and worsening if stricter laws are not put into place.

These preliminary results could profoundly change, depending on how many people respond to the survey by the end of the surveying period. Again, if you haven’t yet completed it, you can do so at the Crawford County Fair the week of Aug. 21. All residents of the county are urged to make their health needs known so that the health organizations in our communities can provide the services and help you need.

Bell, Ph.D., MPH, serves as an officer with the Crawford Health Improvement Coalition. To discuss this issue further, go to crawfordcountyhealth.blogspot.com.

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