In Imperial Valley two in every five people are obese, nearly 13,000 people have been diagnosed with diabetes and 163 children were hospitalized in 2010 due to asthma.
The Valley leads the state with these factors, having the highest rates of diabetes, asthma hospitalizations and obesity. Because of these and other factors, Imperial County has an uncertain future, ranking as one of the worst counties in California for its health habits, though currently the area is not too far off with how healthy it is.
About one in three people reported having bad or only fair health, according to a report released earlier this month by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. On average residents had about five days through a 30-day period that they considered to be poor physical health days, compared to the 3.7 in California and the 2.6 national average.
While there were health factors locally that did much better than the state average, like adult smoking, excessive drinking and the number of diabetic screenings done, overall factors that can lead to a healthy life here were bad.
About 24 percent of the population is reported uninsured, 66 of 1,000 teenage girls between the age of 15 and 19 have had a baby and 23 percent of people older than 20 reported no physical activity.
Socio-economic factors can also affect health, and Imperial County’s high unemployment rate and the number of children in poverty worked against the area in its health ranking.
The report shows that Imperial County ranked 35 out of 56 counties in California for how healthy it is, but the area did poorly — 52 out of 56 counties — with its factors that lead to a healthy life in the future, like obesity, insurance levels, socio-economic factors and the physical environment.
The report was geared not toward pitting counties against each other, but rather encouraging people to get involved, said Kate Konkle, outreach specialist with the County Health Report group. It gives people tools, like the Web site countyhealthrankings.org to try and better their community.
Any change is going to take not only health specialists, but also business owners, political leaders, educators, really everyone coming together to work on issues, she said.
This report gives people the information and a roadmap for what they can do.
“We recognize health is local,” she said. “Where you live matters to your health.”
The group hopes that people use this as a call to action, to take control of their community’s health by bringing partners to the table and having an honest discussion on what can be done, she said. A lot of factors impact health, and it takes a shared community group coming together to make a significant change.
One of the big impacts in this area is asthma, with about 300 hospitalizations in 2010. Among that group was Adriana Mendez, 18.
Mendez is one of many in her family who has asthma, including her mother, grandmother, sisters, brother and cousins. One of her cousins in Mexico even died after having an asthma attack.
The Brawley resident has made multiple trips to the hospital every year due to her asthma, which she has had for as long as she can remember. It’s been horrible to never feel 100 percent under control of it, she said.
It starts out as a feeling like someone is choking her, pressing down on her chest. She can feel her throat and lungs closing.
Now not only does Mendez have to take daily doses of medicine, but also her 5-month-old daughter Leea Ruiz takes doses every three hours from her blue-penguin decorated inhaler. Leea was just released from the hospital again after another few days stay there.
Mendez worries about her daughter, that she won’t be able to have fun or play soccer because she could have an asthma attack.
“I want her to have a normal life,” Mendez said. “Even if it’s (asthma) controlled, it’s not for that long.”