Study reveals disturbing health trends for Lycoming County

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette The UPMC Susquehanna Williamsport Regional Medical Center is one the facilities that serve the health-care needs of the area. A recent survey revealed that Lycoming County’s overall health ranking has slipped from 29th to 46th in the state. Experts say many factors potentially come into play.

Lycoming County is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to certain health issues, according to recently released data.

The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps study revealed that overall figures in the past year for smoking, adult obesity and teenage births each exceed the state average.

Overall, the county scored in the bottom half of the state, ranking 46 out of 67 counties for health factors.

“That number is troubling because that is a projection of future health,” said Jerry Spegman, community health coach with the study.

What Spegman finds interesting and perhaps unexplainable is Lycoming County’s fall to 46th from its previous year ranking of 29th among all counties in the state.

It could well be, he conceded, that Lycoming’s somewhat precipitous drop is more of a reflection of other counties experiencing certain improvements in health issues.

“I think there is something buried in these measures that needs to be ferreted out,” Spegman said. “Lycoming County is one of those counties that has seen a fairly dramatic shift, not in the right direction.”

For overall health outcomes, Lycoming is ranked 33rd in the state.

Health outcomes considered such issues as premature deaths, poor or fair health, poor physical health days, poor mental health days and low birthweight.

Only for premature deaths among those categories did Lycoming exceed the state average.

But Spegman said the county’s 46 health factor score is certainly the more disturbing figure.

“You definitely have some disparities between the county and the state,” he said.

For adult smoking, Lycoming scored 19 percent compared to 18 percent for the state.

Lycoming’s adult obesity rate is 32 percent, compared to the state’s 29 percent, while the county’s teenage birth rate is 31 percent, or 6 percent higher than that of the state.

Lycoming also exceeds the state for rates of physical inactivity, 25 percent to 23 percent; excessive drinking, 20 percent to 18 percent, and alcohol-impaired deaths, 39 percent to 32 percent.

Additional factors not included in calculating overall rankings also were listed in the report.

For example, compared to the state, the county has a smaller ratio of primary doctors, dentists and mental-health providers with respect to its population, according to the figures.

In addition, the county’s 5.9 percent unemployment rate exceeded the state’s 5.3 percent figure, and Lycoming had a 23 percent rate of children in poverty compared to the state rate of 19 percent.

Spegman said data from the study does not provide a complete picture of what is occurring in a particular county.

“We are the first to say this is meant to start a conversation about what is going on,” he said.

Lycoming County Health Improvement Coalition Vice President Beth McMahon said the figures from the study certainly are worthy of attention.

“What is really surfacing in our area is the mental-health issue,” McMahon said. “That is a real concern.”

She noted many health issues, from obesity to alcohol and drug problems, are related to mental health.

And, among youth, rates of depression and other psychological problems are prevalent, including in Lycoming County.