If you feel a sense of frustration in the latest Community Health Needs Assessment for Waco-McLennan County residents, there’s no shortage of reasons, beginning with many of us. The survey suggests more than one in five McLennan Countians does no physical activity whatsoever during the course of a normal week. It suggests more than half of us do nothing to pursue balanced, healthy meals. Seventy-three percent of us surveyed consume less than the federally recommended minimum amount of vegetables per day. We suspect some of our neighbors claim french-fried potatoes as a healthy vegetable.
Like peers across so much of this nation of plenty, Central Texans bear significant responsibility for their precarious state of health. Yes, some of us may seem productive and fit enough today, but physicians and medical researchers assure us the assets of youth and genetics endure only so long. Eventually, poor dietary habits and lack of at least some exercise — even if only walking — will catch up with us. Some might stand a better chance if only they went in for a checkup once a year when a physician could scare them into grasping the facts of life, decline and death.
Yet, as new Waco-McLennan County Public Health director Brenda Gray quite accurately notes, responsibility doesn’t fall entirely on a public out of shape and out of breath. Not quite one in 10 surveyed reported having trouble accessing health-care professionals the past 12 months. Those between ages 25 and 44 or living in the east and central portions of McLennan County are most likely to experience such problems. (Psst: That’s another way of saying education and poverty count.] The survey confirms earlier data showing high rates of uninsured and over-reliance on emergency rooms for health care.
While acknowledging the failure of Central Texans to better manage their health care, Gray says, “it’s incumbent not only on the leaders of the city of Waco but Texas and the United States to make health a default in every community.” She refers to everything from sidewalks (to spur walkability) to grocery stores in “food deserts” (one store of which is now imperiled, incredibly, because of a dustup between City Hall and the proprietor over roll-down doors) to federal lawmakers who use health-care policy to batter political opponents rather than press for overdue reforms that actually help people. (Death panels, anyone?)
So here’s to wishing the very best of health to Ms. Gray as she charts her tenure and a long life to her board members, assuming they do far more, much more, to speak out on behalf of constituents and patients than we see reflected in public attitudes and our state and federal laws. And let’s hope for wisdom at long last among those of us who have failed to recognize that failures in health-care access result in more emergency room visits, which in turn contribute to higher insurance premiums and higher health-care bills for all. This, of course, assumes many of us no longer subscribe to the Christian tenet of looking out for the least of us, increasingly a sentiment in 21st-century America.