When then Lee Memorial Health System formed Healthy Lee 10 years ago, behavioral health topped the priority list. Steering committee members felt it had the best opportunity to improve.
While behavioral health remains important, the main focus has shifted to other areas.
Healthy lifestyles ranked No. 1 in continuing need when Gary Lockwood of Professional Research Consultants polled 38 Lee County community leaders Tuesday at the Healthy Lee Steering Committee Annual Meeting at Florida Southwestern College. Heart disease and stroke ranked No. 1 in ability to make an impact.
Behavioral health ranked second and fourth in need and impact.
Healthy lifestyle, which includes exercise, a better diet, and not using drugs and tobacco, would cut down on obesity, one of not just Lee County’s biggest health issues but the country’s.
Jim Nathan, recently retired president and CEO of Lee Health, said the United States is the fattest nation on earth and that basically has occurred in the last 25 years. National statistics say about two-thirds of our nation is either overweight or obese.
The local obesity rate is 31.2 percent, compared to 23 percent in 2007.
“We’re still very reactive,” Nathan said. “We’re a nation built on a health-care system that is on repair-center medicine. We have great technicians and brilliant people in health care, but we have to figure out not to have the problem in the first place.”
Rates of obesity have risen sharply over the last decade in Lee County, even as people say they are smoking less and feel generally healthier, according to the community survey commissioned by the Healthy Lee initiative.
The mixed bag of findings included in the 300-page report shows a county struggling to engage in healthier daily habits and, particularly for the region’s uninsured, get regular access to medical and mental health providers.
Obesity is linked to a long list of ailments, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Lowering its rate has been among Healthy Lee’s top priorities for years.
Cliff Smith, United Way president, said the Lee County School District and Horizon Council gave great examples of getting youths, teachers and employers invested in living well.
“Healthy lifestyles is really the key to everything we’re talking about,” said Smith, spokesperson of a group that talked about healthy lifestyles. “We have to get proactive and get individuals, children, groups, employers to understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Many of the topics we discussed can reduce the incident rate dramatically.”
Pounders said those in the group felt behavioral health should be split into mental health, substance abuse and Alzheimer’s/dementia. They also suggested using the Salvation Army’s model of dual diagnosis with mental health and addiction.
“There’s a cost to everything,” Pounders noted. “And our group said we should be looking into private donations and not counting on the government so much for support.”
Frank Gluck contributed to this story.
Continuing need ranking (based on a scale of 1-10)
Healthy lifestyles 9.25
Behavioral health 8.61
Heart disease and stroke 8.47
Access/primary care alternatives 7.64
Ability to impact ranking (based on a scale of 1-10)
Heart disease and stroke 7.54
Healthy lifestyles 6.50
Behavioral health 6.35
Access/primary care alternatives 5.82
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