County Identifies Top Public Health Issues for Coming Years

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The Orange County Health Care Agency has targeted four leading health priorities for improvement in the next two years: infant and child health; senior health; mental and behavioral issues; and obesity and diabetes.

“We looked across the whole community and whole array of health issues to see where, with collective effort between players in public health, we could make positive improvements,” said David Soulesis, deputy director of public health services at the agency.

The plans are outlined in a new publication, 2014-16 Orange County Health Improvement Plan, which is intended to guide hospitals, community organizations, and social service providers in setting priorities.

Among its goals are improving access to prenatal care services and providing more support for breast-feeding of newborns, which is linked to disease prevention and obesity reduction.

The report also calls for better coordination among medical providers to identify gestational diabetes, a temporary form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and is linked to a greater chance of contracting the illness later in the mother’s life.

Orange County’s rate of gestational diabetes has increased in recent years, with especially high rates among Asian and Pacific Islander mothers as well as mothers age 35 or over, according to the publication.

Another priority is to improve treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, which is the cause of death for a rising percentage of Orange County’s seniors. Alzheimer’s death rates are higher in Orange County than in the state or the nation, according to the publication.

“This is partly because we’ve living longer and partly because we’re doing better at identifying it,” Soulesis said of Alzheimer’s. He predicted continued increases in Alzheimer’s cases, given the county’s aging population.

“By 2030, one in five people in Orange County will be over 65. We have an aging population here. We see a tidal wave of issues and challenges,” he said.

The health improvement plan calls for dissemination of an annual wellness visit toolkit to physicians who don’t specialize in geriatric health. The kit would help them assess seniors for cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s in addition to other issues related to aging, such as risk of falling.

Addressing another concern, the publication calls for schools to play a role in reducing unhealthy weight and obesity among youth and also reports that diabetes is the eighth leading cause of death overall in Orange County, the fifth leading cause of death among Latinos and the sixth leading cause of death among Asians and Pacific Islanders.

In the category of behavioral health, the agency recommended a host of initiatives to improve access to mental health services and to raise awareness of mental illness in addition to calling for efforts to reduce alcohol and prescription drug abuse.

The health improvement plan will be published in its final form later this month.

Amy DePaul is a Voice of OC contributing writer and lecturer in the UC Irvine literary journalism program. You can reach her directly at depaula@uci.edu.

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