There was some good news and bad news in the latest community health assessment prepared by members of the Ozark Health Commission's Joplin region.
Let's get some of the bad news out of the way first: The assessment suggests that heart and lung disease and mental health continue to afflict residents in the Four-State Area at higher rates than the national average, as the Globe reported on Sunday.
Cardiovascular diseases, including congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease and myocardial infarction, are the leading cause of death in the U.S., and disease rates remain significantly higher here than national averages. The indicators for lung disease also are worse in the Ozarks region than the nation.
But there was a bit of good news buried in the report. The rates for those diseases, despite being higher than average, also declined from the last time the assessment was conducted in 2016. In other words, we may be getting better at identifying and treating (and perhaps even preventing) cardiovascular and lung disease in the Joplin area.
The other good news is that we already know how to address these issues — get some exercise, eat a healthy diet and quit smoking. Making these lifestyle choices, although not always easy, can lead to much better and healthier outcomes.
Back to the bad news. The issue of mental health is murkier given that data is limited, but when it comes to emergency room visits related to mental, behavioral or neuro-developmental disorders, this region appears to have gotten worse since the 2016 assessment, and suicides have increased by about 4% since then.
Changing this trend seems to us to be much more difficult than committing to taking a 30-minute walk every day or eating more fruits and vegetables. To turn this around, our community will have to drop the stigma associated with seeking help for mental illness, which the assessment identifies as a major barrier to improving the situation, and be willing to educate ourselves on mental health diseases and reach out to those who may be experiencing them.
It's clear from the assessment that we have made some strides in recent years to becoming a healthier community, but we still have a way to go. Let's keep up the hard work and strive to be a healthier Joplin.