Quality of life in Rowan improving, report says

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
Healthy Rowan! has released its 2008 Quality of Life Report Card for Rowan County, and the news is optimistic.
Dr. Jim Cowan, Healthy Rowan! coordinator and Allied Health Services director for the Rowan County Health Department, reviewed the grades for board members Monday night, discussing them further in a telephone interview Tuesday.
“In those areas where we make investments of our time and our energy and of our money and political will,” he said, “we do see improvements. It’s just a question of knowing the trends, knowing what our community is doing well, knowing where our community is challenged and addressing those challenges in partnerships.
“The health department spends quite a bit of time in bringing agencies together in both the private and public sectors to address those problems.”
One area of improvement that stands out on the annual Quality of Life Report Card is the work of the Teen Tobacco Use Prevention and Control program. “We are at historic lows for youth tobacco use in Rowan County and across North Carolina,” Cowan said.
Tobacco use is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in the United States. “That’s why making a difference in that particular area is so important,” he said.
As part of the program, Rowan County’s 12 teen-led tobacco-prevention clubs encourage and motivate middle and high school students to refrain from ever using tobacco and to commit to remaining tobacco-free for the rest of their lives. “That’s one aspect,” he said, “and that’s the most important.”
Cowan said the program also helps young people who have already started using tobacco products to quit through various resources such as Web sites and telephone quit lines.
A third component of the program is reducing youth access to tobacco products. Cowan said members of the Youth-in-Action Against Tobacco Council have visited tobacco retailers and businesses which sell tobacco products to urge them to check prospective buyers’ IDs to make sure they’re age 18 or over, which is North Carolina’s legal age for buying tobacco products.
“Most of the businesses that we visited are complying,” he said.
The fourth component of the program is the Smoke Free Rowan campaign to reduce the number of businesses, organizations and schools allowing tobacco products.
According to the Quality of Life Report Card, the proportion of restaurants offering a smoke-free environment increased from 35 percent to 41 percent during the fiscal year 2007-2008. The number of businesses, organizations and schools rose from 123 to 195 with 113 joining the Smoke Free Rowan campaign.
“We know second-hand smoke kills,” Cowan said. “We know that even short exposures increases our chance of heart attacks … It increases your chances of lung cancer. It worsens middle ear infections in children. It worsens and exasperates asthma.
“And the surgeon general in his report has verified that there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke.”
Cowan said the Teen Tobacco Use Prevention and Control program also advocates for raising the price of tobacco products as well as taxes. “Research shows that raising the price of tobacco actually helps people who use tobacco to quit,” he said.
The Quality of Life Report Card lists these other accomplishments by Healthy Rowan! and partnering coalitions through concerted and collaborative efforts:
– Secured more than $415,000 in grant funds for community health initiatives.
– Contributed to a 4 percent reduction in the African-American infant mortality rate, a 5 percent reduction in African-American babies born with low birth weight, a 2 percent reduction in the percentage of African-American families spacing births too close together and a 6 percent reduction in high birth rates among young African-American families.
– Provided 192,708 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables to students at North Rowan and Hanford-Dole elementary schools through a U.S. Department of Agriculture Fresh Fruits and Vegetable Pilot Program.
– Constructed two new walking trails for elementary school students.
– Connected 183 low-income families with health care and family support services by providing 636 free transportation rides.
– For the fifth consecutive year, hosted La Fiesta de Rowan, Rowan County’s largest multi-cultural community event for families. More than 350 family members attended the daylong celebration last year.
– Healthy Rowan! received the 2007 Charles Blackmon Leadership Award from the Governor’s Task Force for Healthy Carolinians. The award honored the partnership’s commitment to reducing health disparities and achieving positive health improvements and outcomes for the community.
– Rowan County Health Department received a 2008 GlaxoSmithKline Child Health Recognition award for reducing teen tobacco use in partnership with Youth-In-Action Against Tobacco Council and the Healthy Baby Coalition of Rowan County.
– Contributed to the Rowan County Health Department achieving inaugural accreditation.
The complete Quality of Life Report Card is available for viewing on the Rowan County Health Department Web site. Cowan said copies will be distributed to community leaders throughout the county.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.