Springfield has been ranked as the least healthy city in Ohio, according to a recent report by a national financial website.
The site, 247wallst.com, based its assessment on the local economy and the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, national health surveys conducted annually by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The ranking has spurred Clark County leaders to focus on improving wellness here, Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said.
“We need to change this, no matter what statistics you use to get here,” Patterson said. “That’s not who we are or who we want to be. Somehow we’ve got to figure out how to do more.”
The cities were ranked using overall health outcomes, such as length and quality of life, and overall health factors, such as behavior, clinical care, physical environment, and social and economic factors.
Many of the negative factors come down to personal behavioral choices people are making, Patterson said, such as smoking or using drugs.
“We have to figure out a way to continue making the health choice the default choice,” he said. “I can’t say that enough … We’re trying to chip away at it a little bit at a time.”
The county has improved in several areas in recent years, including adult obesity, violent crime, air pollution and preventable hospital stays in the annual rankings.
However Clark County ranked worse than the national and state averages in premature death, physical inactivity, unemployment, the number of people without health insurance and the number of children in poverty — all of which played a role in Springfield’s least healthy designation. About 28 percent of children here live in poverty, 6 points higher than the national average.
“A poor social and economic environment accounts for Springfield’s status as the least healthy city in Ohio,” the website says. “An important indicator of current and future population health is the prevalence of child poverty as lifestyle habits developed in childhood are likely to carry into adulthood.”
Patterson is unsure where same of the data used in the study originated. However, even with a wealth of programs, he said the health district must do more.
“All the work we’ve been doing has not been enough … So maybe we need to change and do things a little differently,” he said.
The Clark County Combined Health District is compiling local data for its 2016 Community Health Assessment, which will be released in late January.
“It will be the freshest data available,” Patterson said.
The local surveys will allow the district to determine what’s the most important health issues, Patterson said, and how to address them in its Community Health Improvement Plan.
“We need community buy-in,” Patterson said. “We need the community to say ‘This is our plan and we own it.’”
The community has focused recently on adding options for children and adults to exercise, including free outdoor fitness equipment at the Warder Fit Stop and new playgrounds at Snyder Park.
“We’re slowly getting more and more low-cost and no-cost opportunities for people to exercise,” Patterson said.
A strong jobs strategy, economic infrastructure and a developed workforce can play a role in becoming a healthier community, Chamber of Greater Springfield President/CEO Mike McDorman said.
The Greater Springfield Moving Forward plan, including the jobs strategy and the parks and green spaces committees, are working to make Springfield a healthier community.
“All those things will feed into a more vibrant economy and more vibrant community that moves the needle on how healthy you are,” McDorman said.
In October, community leaders attended the first Regional Health Summit in Urbana to discuss the most important health needs in Clark and Champaign counties and how to address them, Community Mercy Health Partners President and Market Leader Paul Hiltz said.
CMHP recently opened a $235,000 chronic health care clinic at Mercy Memorial Hospital earlier this year for patients to manage conditions like diabetes, congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It plans to open a similar facility in Springfield next year.
Child poverty is another area the hospital has focused on, Hiltz said. So it partnered with Fatherhood Clark County, the chamber and Clark State Community College to improve job training.
The hospital also started a bariatric weight loss program this year involving both surgical and non-surgical approaches for those who are morbidly obese, Hiltz said. It’s also working to recruit more local primary care doctors.
“We take (the ranking) seriously and we want to see things improve in the community here,” Hiltz said. “The best news to me is that all the community leaders are committed to working together to fix it.”
Children need health and fitness knowledge instilled at an early age, said Tammy Beam, owner of The Fitness Cellar, 137 E. Main St. She’s owned the gym downtown since 2003.
Springfield is lucky to have many different affordable fitness options, she said, including the YMCA, Springfield Health and Fitness Center and Planet Fitness. The gyms could work together to offer reduced rates for different options not offered at their club, such as swimming, spinning or power-lifting classes, Beam said.
“I would encourage people to find something they like to do that’s enjoyable because chances are they’re going to stick with it,” Beam said.
The ranking surprised Springfield resident Alecia Foley, who works out about two times per week. However, she has a lot of friends who don’t enjoy going to the gym.
“Fitness is more of a trend that’s coming about, but not necessarily in Springfield,” Foley said.
By the numbers
76.9: Percentage of Springfield residents classified as overweight or obese based upon their body mass index.
28: Percentage of children here who live in poverty, 6 points higher than the national average.
28: Percentage of people here who smoke, 7 points higher than the state average.
15: Percentage of people here without health insurance, 1 point higher than the state average.
Sources: Sixth annual County Health Rankings report and Clark County Combined Health District study.
The Springfield News-Sun covers important public health issues in the community, including recent stories on the regional health summit and the Latino health survey.