East Texas fares poorly in health report

By Holley Nees - email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A new report showing how America's counties stack up on health has Trinity as the lowest-ranked county in Texas. Polk County is ranked 220 out of 221.

Other East Texas counties ranked near the bottom in "health outcomes" were Newton (218), San Augustine (216), Sabine (214), Shelby (207) and Cherokee (200).

Angelina is ranked 147, while Tyler (178), Jasper (179), Rusk (180) and Nacogdoches (181) were in the top 200.

The report was released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The rankings considered several health-related factors, including premature deaths, smoking and obesity rates, social factors, crime rates and pollution.

The report showed Williamson, Collin, Denton, Gillespie and Kendall counties as the top five healthiest counties in Texas.

Sharon Shaw, Angelina County & Cities Health District administrator, looks over the latest statistics that put her county's overall health at the bottom of the list.

"This is nothing new to public health," Shaw said. "We have been identifying for a number of years that we have a lot of health risks and health behaviors here in East Texas that don't put us in the healthiest counties in Texas."

For Shaw, Angelina and surrounding counties rank low partially due to education levels and employment opportunities.

"Teen birth rate compared to the number one county is more than twice the number," Shaw said.

Another problem: Shaw says outside Angelina County, there's not a public health facility for 60 to 100 miles in some directions.

"East Texas has a long way to go in order to improve their lifestyles," Shaw said. "You will notice that Angelina County is a lighter green than some of the counties around us. We do have good medical infrastructure here and do have a progressive community."

The study shows Angelina County has greater access to foods than the number one county. The problem, health officials say, is choosing to live healthier.

"There is a lifestyle change," Dietician Carol Bradley said. "Some of that is adjusting some of their favorite recipes like chicken fried steak to maybe making beef stew which would be a lot healthier for the same type of cut of meat."

"Lifestyles do not chance overnight," Shaw said. "It take generations and I think that we're growing healthier kids in Angelina County so you look at this study and 10 years from now and hopefully the East Texas area will have a brighter shade of green and not be quite so unhealthy."

For now, Shaw hopes East Texans will rally together to tackle the county's critical health issues and move up in the Lone Star state.

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