PEKIN — A recent Tri-County Area health survey found residents view behavioral health and cancer as among the most important issues facing their communities.
The coordinated effort between health departments and community leaders in Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties lists behavioral health, healthy lifestyles, cancer and reproductive health as priority issues for health care professionals to confront over the coming years.
“All the data that we considered for our priorities was through the Tri-County lens,” said Amy Fox, administrator for the Tazewell County Health Department.
A team of roughly 50 people she described as “community providers” — including school personnel, clergy and church leaders — addressed fundamental challenges to health at both county and regional levels.
Melinda Figge, executive director of the Pekin YWCA, served on the commission.
“The fact that we settled on four priorities pretty easily was amazing,” Figge said. “I think that speaks to the fact that, as a region, we can work together, because as a region we are experiencing very similar, almost exactly the same health needs.”
Here is a brief look at the four initiatives:
Fox said the most cited issues facing the Tri-County Area were mental and behavioral health. In Tazewell County, 65 percent of those surveyed described countywide mental health as “good.”
The study also found that mental health “appears to be improving slightly in Woodford County, but is trending downward in Peoria County.” Conversely, “more residents have a higher self-perception of both physical and mental health in 2016” than they did in 2013.
The survey also found myriad reasons Tazewell County residents do not receive counseling, with 41 percent saying they could not afford co-pays and 15 percent citing embarrassment as a deterrent.
Healthy eating/active living
Asked what she found most surprising, Figge said, “The fact that healthy living and issues of obesity popped to the top consistently. Those have an underlying role in all other health issues in our community.”
Of those surveyed in Tazewell County, 9 percent said they do not eat a serving of fruit or vegetables each day, with 46 percent of responders citing financial constraints as the main cause. While substance abuse among Tazewell County eighth and 12th graders was lower than the state average, the 22 percent of county residents who said they binge drink is slightly above the statewide rate.
Woodford County’s breast cancer rate was higher than the state average. Tazewell County, meanwhile, outpaced the state average in prostate and lung cancers.
Fox said the commission will focus predominantly on lung and breast cancers — rather than prostate cancer — because the former are more deadly.
“That doesn’t mean we’re not looking at (prostate cancer),” she said. “It doesn’t mean we’re not working on it. It just doesn’t mean that it’s risen to a level of work for the county.”
Officials cited Peoria County’s large population and high poverty rate as spurring reproductive health as an issue. Large populations living in poverty can “lead to a whole host of health issues, and not just sexually transmitted diseases by any means,” Figge said.
Tazewell County, meanwhile, saw significant decreases in chlamydia and gonorrhea between 2013 and 2014.
Officials from across the Tri-County Area will now turn their attention toward implementing programs to curtail concerning trends, as well as bolster areas of improvement. They are calling for members of the public to attend meetings to address each initiative over the next few weeks, after which they will begin to tailor their action plans accordingly.
For more information, visit your local health department’s website.
List of Meetings
Cancer Priority meeting: 9 to 11 a.m. June 7, Woodford County Health Department
Healthy Eating/Active Living meeting: 1 to 3 p.m. June 8, Tazewell County Health Department
Behavioral Health meeting: 9 to 11 a.m. June 13, Peoria City/County Health Department