12/24/06 — New survey takes look at health of county

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New survey takes look at health of county

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 24, 2006 2:22 AM

Affordable healthcare is the biggest barrier to proper medical care for Wayne County residents, with the most pervading ailments being high cholesterol and high blood pressure, according to results from the 2006 Behavior Risk Factor Survey recently received by Wayne Action Teams for Community Health, or WATCH.

The survey was commissioned by WATCH to assess the needs in Wayne County. Findings will be used to help area health professionals better understand behaviors that affect Wayne County citizens' health.

The 54-question survey was sent to a random mailing list of 5,000 residents in March, said Sissy Lee-Elmore, executive director of WATCH. About 550 responses were returned, she said -- 49 percent from men, 51 percent from women.

The survey, adapted by East Carolina University's Center for Survey Research, was devised from a similar sampling conducted by WATCH in 1998. Topics covered included physical health, exercise, nutrition, smoking and substance abuse habits.

In 1998, transportation was listed as one of the top barriers to health care, Ms. Lee-Elmore said. For some, it still is, although the latest survey showed that almost 90 percent were able to drive themselves to the doctor, clinic or pharmacy while 10 percent relied on relatives or friends to drive them.

More than half the respondents indicated they are trying to lose weight. More than a third said they exercise two or three times a week for more than 20 minutes, while another third said they do not exercise even once a week.

One avenue to exercise, parks and recreation facilities, were believed to be insufficient in Wayne County, according to the survey. When the new Stoney Creek Park was mentioned, almost half of the respondents agreed it would be a beneficial attribute to the community, while 38 percent said it would not.

As for nutrition, the majority of participants reported they believe their diet to be medium in fat, with an average of three servings of fruits and vegetables consumed a day. The 1998 survey showed 93 percent did not consume the recommended number of daily fruits and vegetables.

Neither alcohol nor tobacco use surfaced as major problems for Wayne County residents. The majority reported not drinking alcoholic beverages. Ninety percent said they would not drive a motor vehicle after two or more drinks, and 178 reported having consumed alcohol nine days during a month.

The survey also showed that fewer people are smoking. About 75 percent of responders said they neither smoked nor had members in their household who did. Fifteen percent reported smoking cigarettes, and 70 percent said they would like to quit.

The issue has been addressed by WATCH in the past, Ms. Lee-Elmore said. Diminishing numbers caused it to be tabled for this year, but the workshop will be brought back in the future, she said.

"When we did the smoking cessation in the past, 70 people on average came," she said. "But the last time we had it, in 2005, we only had 10 participants. We would be open to suggestions from people who would like to quit, what we can do to help them."

Safety and crime were also covered on the questionnaire. Nine, or about 2 percent, reported witnessing or knowing someone in their household witnessing any kind of physical or sexual abuse in the home in the past five years, while 29 percent reported they kept a loaded gun for safety.

When it came to ranking safety for children at school, on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the safest, an average score of seven was reported.

Overall, the survey provided a lot of insight into the lifestyle of the local community, Ms. Lee-Elmore said.

"The barriers to health care are the same as they were back then" when the first survey was done, she said. "I think people are more conscious of their eating than they were back then. They exercise more, so it appears that people are taking more responsibility for their own health by increasing their exercise and improving their consumption of fruits and vegetables."

The baseline data helped in comparing progress and changes, Ms. Lee-Elmore said, and will be useful when applying for future grants.

The latest survey was partially funded through a Health Carolinians grant. It cost $1,400 as compared to the $70,000 price tag on the one in 1998.

The most glaring problem with the survey, though, was in responses that were not received.

"Minorities were under-represented," she said, particularly Hispanics. "It's a big issue that we didn't receive responses from as many as we would have liked."

Still, she said, the survey will be considered successful if agencies, organizations and the general population take advantage of the results and apply them to improve services.

"It's just one piece of the puzzle," said James Roosen, Wayne County's health director. "The more information we have to make decisions in terms of types of services that we provide, where we need to focus our efforts, that information is good."