Tampa Bay health scorecard delivers mixed results

04/06/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Gauging the overall health of a heavily-populated region is no easy task, but a recent study out tries to do just that. Researchers presented their findings at the Tampa Bay partnership’s headquarters today, and it paints a complex picture that’s not all bad, but far from ideal.

The Healthy Communities report draws from a sweeping range of data sources. It notes that in 2007, 62 percent of Tampa Bay area residents were overweight, and more than a quarter were obese. That same year, 26 percent of respondents reported a completely sedentary lifestyle. Researcher Denise Remus of BayCare Health System said this more or less reflects what’s happening on the national level.

"Lack of attention to exercise and fitness and increase in obesity and some of those other concerns around the chronic disease, are mirroring what we've seen nationally so it wasn't a surprise, it was more of a confirmation."

Remus said there were some areas in which Tampa Bay was surprisingly troubled. When it comes to mental health, the report notes, the National Alliance for Mental Health gave the entire state a “D” grade. She said especially shocking was Tampa Bay’s suicide rate. According to the report, between 2002 and 2006 it was nearly 15 for every 100,000 people, compared to a statewide rate of 12.6 and a nationwide rate of 10.9.

"That really was something that we had not anticipated. You know, we live in a beautiful community, wonderful weather, sunny skies, the water."

Pedestrian safety was another key area of concern. The report notes the state ranked worst in pedestrian fatalities in 2009. David Pizzo of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, one of the study’s funding sources, said there were a couple of areas were Tampa Bay fared well.

"I think we score well on the area of stroke, coronary type diseases, those are two of them."

Tampa Bay’s stroke rate is reportedly 34.6 deaths per 100,000 people. Nationally, that number is 56.2 per 100,000. As for the two other biggest causes of death, coronary heart disease and cancer, the report notes a downward trend in those conditions. Project manager Lynda Leedy said the overall picture makes Tampa Bay’s health about average when compared to cities throughout the nation.

"You know, we're not Portland, but we're not Tuscaloosa either. We're sort of between."

…which might not be such a bad thing

"Portland has a lot of rain, we'd rather be here."

The study used data from sources including the US Census Bureau, the FBI, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Florida Department of Health. Much of the data is at least four years old. That means the overall study doesn’t take into account the impact Tampa’s economic collapse and still-comatose job market may be having on people’s mental and physical well-being. Researcher Denise Remus said this information gap might not be as problematic as it seems.

"If we think about the fact that we have variation here between our region and state and national rates, I'm pretty comfortable those differences still exist, and that changing behavior and changing those outcomes takes a while."

The researchers said they hope the study, the first of its kind to be largely sponsored by the nonprofit Tampa Bay Partnership, will help guide health policy at local, state, and national levels, and maybe even influence individuals in everyday decisions like whether to exercise. The state legislature is currently poised to cut millions out of its health care budget. Asked whether he thinks GOP lawmakers in Tallahassee will take notice of Tampa Bay’s dire needs in areas like pedestrian safety and lung cancer, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s David Pizzo said he hopes so.

"I think it's up to us, though, to make the best case possible for what we need in the community and that's where the community needs to get together. Our legislators represent the community and this is a very important area of the state so I think it depends on us but at least we have something tangible to start working with."

The study also doesn’t address the reasons behind the Tampa Bay area’s high suicide and lung cancer rates, but the researchers said exploring those questions is among top priorities in the wake of the study’s release.

Previous WMNF news coverage of the Tampa Bay Partnership

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