Rochester RHIO

What is being touted as an eye-opening regional health report shows promise in some areas but numbers that concern local officials in others.

The inaugural Community Health Indicators Report was commissioned by the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and compiled by the Rochester Regional Health Information Organization (RHIO). It provides a glimpse into residents’ well-being across 13 regional counties, including Ontario, Seneca, Wayne, and Yates.

Here are some of the key findings:

• The prevalence of obesity (a body mass index of 30 or higher) in the greater Finger Lakes region is 41.9 percent. This is slightly higher than the latest national average (39.8) reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

• The percentage of patients who say they currently smoke is 22 percent, significantly higher than the latest national average (14 percent) reported by the CDC.

• Nearly two-thirds of people (66.4 percent) with high blood pressure had their condition under control. This is better than the national average of 54 percent.

• Almost three out of four patients (74.4 percent) with a diabetes diagnosis had their disease under control.

“The blood pressure numbers are improving, which is part of a huge regional initiative, but the obesity rates are not good news,” said Mary Beer, Ontario County’s director of public health who is involved with RHIO. “My concern is the smoking rate, and it could start to increase with all the vaping kids are doing today. What we are concerned about is having all these kids become addicted to nicotine.”

In an era of numerous health reports, the regional report is considered significant because it uses clinical input — considered the gold standard for health data. In nearly all other cases, population health statistics are based on health insurance claims or self-reported data.

Officials said due to the increased use of electronic medical records, analysis of community-level clinical data is now possible.

“I think what we are seeing in the region is consistent with what we are seeing in Seneca County,” said Kerry VanAuken, Seneca County’s senior public health educator. “Chronic disease is certainly a priority coming up on all our dashboards in the Finger Lakes.”

VanAuken and Vickie Swinehart, Seneca County’s director of public health, also are concerned with the high smoking rate. The regional report comes from data for people between the ages of 18 and 65.

“When it comes to smoking and what we are hearing anecdotally, there is certainly an increase in adolescent vaping,” Swinehart said. “The nicotine addiction is something to be concerned with, and the future health impacts.”

“One of the things that struck me was the high smoking rate for women (20 percent), and we are seeing that locally,” VanAuken added. “We are also seeing that around 10 percent of new mothers are reporting they smoked while pregnant.”

While officials are touting the report as a benchmark for the community, others said the numbers have been known for years.

“At a first glace, I do not see any numbers that were eye-opening to me. What they have written is really pretty much known when you combine all the rural counties,” said Diane Devlin, Wayne County’s director of public health. “It would mean more to me if it was broken down by county. We are currently working on our Community Health Assessment, which this cycle will have a regional approach with chapters on each Finger Lakes county.”

Rochester RHIO plans to publish annual updates, allowing for year-to-year comparisons.

“It will be good to see where we are doing better and where we are not, and try to reverse some of those trends,” Beer said. “It takes a long time to move the needle in public health. For example, when you go to a doctor for a problem and get medication, you get immediate results. That isn’t the case in public health.”

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