A report released last week that included information on the health of Robeson County residents was, well, rather sickening.
The information, compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was a county-by-county breakdown of the entire United States, and it found that Robeson County residents ranked third worst in North Carolina in overall health. The consequence: We are dead last in the state in life expectancy.
While it’s convenient to blame this sorry news on poverty in this county, that’s a swing and a miss. The study mostly looked at behavior that is not dictated by life’s circumstances. It is true that some of the same choices that might sentence someone to a life of less are unhealthy, but correlation doesn’t inevitably mean causation.
The study found that Robesonians are more likely to smoke, drink excessively, have babies as teenagers, become obese and have risky sex than most Americans. None of those behaviors are dictated by a person’s rung on the socio-economic ladder; just because the folks did it doesn’t mean it’s a way of life. And let’s dispense with the nonsense that more information is the panacea.
To push the point further:
— It is a choice to smoke. And no one who chooses to do so can be confused about its health consequences. Enough has been said about smoking causing cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other killer ailments.
— While studies show that moderate alcohol consumption is actually healthy, drinking excessively isn’t. Doing so can cause a range of diseases that ravage organs such as the liver, heart and pancreas. It also puts people at risk for neurological problems. Who doesn’t know this?
— Reckless sexual behavior is what leads to teenagers becoming mothers, and people suffering from STD’s. In 2011, it’s not a mystery where babies come from — the same place as syphilis and gonorrhea. Unprotected sex is akin to Russian roulette. Another brochure isn’t needed.
— Obesity might be the biggest threat to our nation’s health. It’s bad everywhere, but worse here in Robeson County. Just take a look at the line at the buffet. Is it really necessary for the government to require a chart with nutritional information in a fast-food restaurant for people to understand that a double-cheeseburger with bacon is a shortcut to the cemetery? Do we need to be told one more time to get off the couch and take a walk around the block?
Now it is true that Robeson County can claim victim status when it comes to the percentage of people without health insurance and access to health care, and these shortcomings contribute to our overall unhealthiness. Southeastern Regional Medical Center in recent years has made progress in the areas of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and deaths related to the Big Three are on the decline. But that is because of a sharper treatment tool, and not because of fewer people suffering with these diseases.
Robeson County’s overall health will only improve when its residents make better choices — baked chicken instead of fried, a stick of gum instead of a Marlboro, one glass of wine instead of the bottle, a trip to the gym instead of Nintendo, and a condom if you must.
It really is up to each of us.