Mary Beer

Ontario County Public Health Director Mary Beer.

HOPEWELL — Over the next two years, Ontario County health officials hope to reduce obesity and tobacco use in the county.

At the same time, there will be an emphasis on addressing mental health and substance abuse.

Those issues are highlighted in the county’s 2016-18 community health improvement plan. It was developed after the public health department worked with area hospitals, the regional S2AY Rural Health Network and community leaders to complete a community health assessment.

Mary Beer, the county’s director of public health, said three priority areas were identified:

Priority 1 — Prevent chronic disease, including hypertension, by reducing obesity and tobacco use rates.

Priority 2 — Increase access to preventive health care.

Priority 3 — Promote mental health and prevent substance abuse.

In 2013-14, 38 percent of county residents were identified as having high blood pressure, above the national average of 30 percent.

According to the Finger Lakes Hypertension Registry, 71 percent of county residents diagnosed with high blood pressure are controlling it. Uncontrolled hypertension can increase the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Beer noted that smoking and secondhand smoke increase the risk of heart disease, lung disease and various cancers. The improvement plan addresses tobacco as a driver of disease and disability, with particular attention paid to decreasing exposure of children and teens to tobacco images, messaging and marketing.

The plan also addresses substance abuse in tandem with the promotion of mental health; the two are often associated. In recent years, Ontario County has seen a marked increase in heroin-related emergency room visits and fatal overdoses, and most incarcerations at the county jail are related to substance abuse while many inmates have mental health diagnoses.

Beer said addressing those issues together will increase collaboration, prevent duplication of services and allow for the most effective use of limited resources.

“The impact of heroin on individuals, families and neighborhoods is significant,” Beer said. “The increasing rate of substance abuse in Ontario County is taxing the health care and correctional systems.”

She added that people living in poverty are more apt to smoke and suffer higher rates of obesity and resultant chronic diseases. They are also less likely to seek out preventative health care and may have difficulty purchasing medication.

“The impact of socioeconomic disparity will be explored and addressed by community partners and stakeholders as the community health improvement plan is implemented,” she said.

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