Lane County – by the Numbers


There are roughly 400,000 of us living here in the Willamette Valley Basin, and here in Lane County, life is pretty good.  We don’t suffer horrible weather patterns or worry too much about urban major crime trends. We’ve got our niche carved out of the backwoods and we like it that way for all kinds of reasons. However a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute is shining a light on an issue that we are starting to gloss over in our day-to-day. For instance did you know that over 22% of adults in Lane County are still currently uninsured when it comes to health care? Before you think I’m trying to wax politic, I’m not, its a question of what should we do…we all get sick.

It only takes me as long as hitting the CALC button to know that 22% represents almost 88,000 people who face the choice of not being treated, or going into debt.  It is an unspoken tenet that if you are uninsured, better not get sick. Meanwhile these  are the people who are serving your lunches, fixing your food and handling your cash. Take it from someone who has worked in and out of the food-service industry over the years, there is ALWAYS someone sick at any given time at a restaurant, pizzeria, or breakfast joint. Whether it’s a cold that keeps someone’s nose running or a cough that they have to hide or a flu that has them running to the restroom every 15 minutes, it’s almost always communicable, and it’s almost always going to find its way to customers. It’s tough to fight a virus after all, it is designed specifically to spread.

Those of us who have worked in the service industry know that “sick days” are not an option. A recent study published in the Journal of Food Protection shows that 12% of food industry workers have reported to work at least twice in the past year with diarrhea or vomiting. That means one out of eight people at any given restaurant is working while sick. Think about that next time you go out to eat… or the next time you get the sniffles. In fact, just look around at the people who are serving you the next time you go to the store or to pick up your prescription. It’s not only the people handling your food that work sick, but the people that teach and look after your children, work at your bank or brew your favorite cup of joe.

It is also interesting to note that the report shows that Lane County has more smokers, binge drinkers, STDs, and obese people than the statewide and national averages. Believe it or not, for the “granola” community identity we cultivate , we also have 11% less access to healthier foods than other Oregonians and 41% less than the national benchmark. For whatever reason, on a state and national-benchmark basis, the numbers reflect a relatively unhealthy county. More people are reporting poor/fair health, and taking more poor physical health days, and poor mental health days than the rest of Oregon. Premature death and low birth weights are also higher than average. So what is it about Lane County, according to the study, that makes us fat, unhealthy, and lazy binge drinkers that tend to say, “Protection? Nah…”?

I’m not sure if the ever-present green drives Lane County residents to self-destruct, or if it’s the beautiful mountains or coast an hour in either direction… but something about the rear-end of the Willamette Valley is definitely out of whack. Call it Twin Peaks syndrome, but it could be said that Lane County suffers from a bit of a personality disorder. From the Country Fair’s indulgent festivities to the Largest Knife Show in the World, we’ve got rodeos, hippy festivals, and roller-derbies all over our towns and countryside. Majestic beaches, beautiful snowy peaks, and access to more recreational facilities than the rest of the state… and we’re apparently not using much of it… we’re calling in sick, and staying home to drink, smoke, eat, and… well you get the point.

The people behind the county health rankings are trying to bring the focus back around to the solution to these issues with its new website. It provides thoughtful, tangible steps for people, communities, and businesses to live (and thrive) healthier. It provides all manner of links and information like Tools for Community Action, Active Living By Design, and Beyond Health Care: New Directions to a Healthier America. Whether you are an Employer, a Community Advocate, a Healthcare Professional, or a Government Official, has steps to take toward tackling major and minor community health issues.

“The health of a community depends on many different factors- ranging from health behaviors, education and jobs, to quality of health care, to the environment.”

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