Editorial — Something to care about

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 3, 2016

If Rowan County residents are complacent about their health, as a recent survey found, maybe they’ll be spurred into action on behalf of the next generation or two. Don’t we want long, healthy lives for our children and grandchildren?

Then we need to lead by example and adopt healthier habits.

The Rowan County Health Department and Novant Health Rowan Medical Center partnered recently to do an assessment of local health needs. They drew important conclusions from surveys, focus groups and key informant interviews about local health challenges. As a result, the community’s top health priorities for the coming three years are:

Obesity and its resulting diseases, including diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension/high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke and joint replacement

Tobacco use and related conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancers of the trachea, bronchus and lung.

Mental health issues, including alcoholism, illegal drug use and prescription drug abuse. (Opiate overdoses have increased from four in 1999 to 23 in 2014, an 83 percent increase.)

Children learn what they live. In Rowan, young people are watching their elders overeat, smoke and abuse substances, possibly on the way to an early grave. Children also see their parents struggle financially, and ill health can be both a cause and a consequence. Maybe people are too worried about money to give much thought to their health. They may be making a mistake. As the assessment report says:

“The information in this report shows that there is a lack of interest in and ownership of health — individually and collectively by Rowan County residents. Rowan County ranks, now and historically, in the middle or is not in a danger area in many of the health indicators. All of these factors make it a challenge to stimulate people to adopt more healthy life styles and practices. The lack of danger can cause a community to become complacent, accepting or both.”

Shaking up that complacency is as important as addressing the identified priorities of obesity, tobacco use and mental health/substance abuse.

Local government has a role to play by providing ample parks and recreation opportunities. Policies also come into play. For example, it’s past time for Rowan County and its municipalities to ban tobacco products at parks. Local government should not allow secondhand smoke to spoil the experience for others; nor should children see tobacco use as an activity to mimic.