Triplicate Staff

Okay, so we're not as healthy as we should be.

Del Norte County got some unwanted attention around California when it finished last among 56 counties in a study of "health outcomes" that measured quality and length of life.

We finished much higher in some other categories, including 25th for access to health care and the quality of that care. That bodes well for the future.

But let's not sugarcoat the bottom line. When this national study by

the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin

measured the overall health of California counties by combining

mortality and morbidity data collected from 2001 to 2008, Del Norte

finished dead-last.

The mortality ranking was based on premature deaths. The morbidity

ranking was based on poor mental and physical health - both

self-reported and measured by sick days - and the percentage of births

with low birth weight.

It might be tempting to downplay our last place in the "outcomes"

category by focusing on Del Norte's better results in categories that

measure "health factors" such as behavior (we ranked 43rd out of 56),

access to clinical care (25th), social and economic data (41st) and

physical environment (46th). It is vexing that these didn't add up to a

better overall "outcome," but the fact is we're well below average in

almost all these categories as well.

Instead of getting lost in the study's statistical minutiae, we suggest drawing two conclusions and then acting on them.

First, the California Endowment made a wise decision when it

included Del Norte in its "Building Healthy Communities" initiative,

which aims to spend $1 billion in 14 regions of California over the

next 10 years to improve their overall health.

Numerous Del Norters are currently engaged in the California

Endowment process of identifying the most critical needs and mapping a

plan for healthy outcomes. This week's study results reinforce the

importance of bringing the best possible creative thinking into play.

Access to proper medical care is crucial, but it's far from the only

factor affecting the health of our citizens. For instance, can we do

better by our young people in terms of providing recreational

opportunities that encourage healthier pursuits?

Which brings us to the second point to take from the study. While

organizations such as the California Endowment engage our health issues

on a large scale, every Del Norter - and especially every parent -

should fight the battle on an individual basis.

Health-related behavior measured in the national study included

alcohol and tobacco use, diet and exercise, and high-risk sexual

behavior that can lead to disease or teen pregnancies.

The county as a whole may not be as healthy as we'd like, but that

doesn't mean you and your children have to be part of the trend. Are

you modeling healthy behavior and encouraging it in your kids?