New London County has a higher than average obesity rate as well as issues involving access to health care, according to a community health needs assessment study.
Lawrence & Memorial Hospital issued the results of the study this morning. The assessment identifies cancer and access to care as the top prioritized community health needs, followed by issues related to cancer, sexual health, mental and behavioral health, and asthma.
The hospital hired Holleran Consulting of Lancaster, Penn., to conduct the study in 2012. Janeen Maxwell, a health and human services consultant with the company, said the goal of the study is to identify health priorities and set goals and strategies to address them.
According to the study, 26 percent of adults in New London County reported a body mass index of 30 or greater, indicating obesity, in 2010. The percentage of obese adults in Connecticut at the time was reported as 23.1 percent.
A 2007 assessment reported that 36.4 percent and 41 percent of pre-kindergarten girls and boys, respectively, in the New London Public Schools were overweight or obese. The level was at 44.9 percent for fourth grade boys and 58.6 percent for fourth grade girls.
Maxwell said the data is sometimes dated and is based on the last available information.
“Sometimes 2007 was the last time they released a specific data point,” she said.
Maxwell said that the study identified some disparities between the city of New London and the rest of the L&M service area. In particular, there is a larger black and Hispanic population in the city, a higher poverty rate, and lower levels of education. Maxwell said these demographics can have an effect on the health rates, saying those in poverty are more likely to experience obesity.
Russell Melmed, an epidemiologist with the Ledge Light Health District, said the lead causes of death in New London County are related to cardiovascular issues or cancer. He said there is a disparity in these numbers, with black and Hispanic residents experiencing higher mortality rates in most causes of death.
“This is egregious. This is unacceptable. This is unjust,” said Melmed. “There’s no reason blacks and Hispanics should be dying at greater rates than whites.”
Maxwell said that the number of New London County residents with access to health insurance compares favorably to state and national rates, there are still some issues with health care access. She said a survey of 26 local health and human service professionals as well as community leaders identified issues with finances or transportation, language or cultural barriers, and a lack of awareness of resources as problems related to health. The survey also identified a need for access to primary and specialty care providers, free or low cost health care options, access to food and exercise programs, outreach efforts by health providers, and bilingual staff and programs.
Melmed said there are high rates of emergency room visits in the county but that the comparative hospitalization rate is lower. He said residents are using the hospital for problems such as asthma, which he said should be treated at home.
Dr. Nicholas Fischer, superintendent of the New London Public Schools, said the study should make an effort to distinguish between race and poverty in identifying health impacts. He also said the issue of access relates to residents having limited resources.
“I don’t care where you are in the country, the main reason people go to the emergency room is they can’t afford a doctor,” he said.
The study also made the following conclusions:
- Certain cancer rates were higher in New London County than the state and national averages between 2004 and 2008 including breast cancer, female colorectal cancer, and lung cancer. However, the rate of prostate cancer was the lower than state and national averages
- Diabetes cases per 1,000 people increased from 27.4 in 2008 to 33.7 in 2010, well above the goal of 7.2 set by Healthy People 2020
- Asthma rates declined between 2008 and 2010 but remained above the Healthy People 2020 goals, with 234.4 cases per 100,000 people in the 0-4 age group in the L&M service area
- Chlamydia rates were high but below the state and national average in 2008, with 245.4 cases per 100,000 people in the L&M primary service area