The Unhealthy Nebraska series published in Lee Enterprises newspapers during the past week addressed both the good points and the bad points of the state of Nebraskans’ health.
During the past year we have all been engrossed by the news about the coronavirus pandemic and everything that’s being done to fight the virus and keep people from contracting it, as well as the vaccines that will help alleviate the threat. But this reporting series looked beyond the immediate threat to factors that threaten our health each and every year — obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, drinking and drug use.
As Dr. Ali Khan, the dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health, told us, Nebraskans have the resources to make the state the healthiest in the nation. But that will take some work.
Obesity is a major problem in Nebraska, the Midwest and the rest of the nation. In Nebraska, 34.1% of adults reporting being obese. That compares to the national number of 31.9%.
And since these numbers are self-reported, the situation could be even worse.
This is so key to our health as studies have found a strong correlation between obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes, as well as certain types of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Central District Health Department Director Teresa Anderson says officials in the CDHD, which covers Hall, Hamilton and Merrick counties, have been paying close attention to obesity numbers. Obesity rates in Hall and Merrick counties are 35% and 38%, respectively.
As those rates rise, Anderson said, an uptick in diabetes numbers is likely, too.
A big factor in obesity is diet.
People need to focus on foods that are dense in nutrients and stay away from processed foods, which have more calories than we realize, said Chelsey Kennedy, who is a women’s health nurse practitioner at CHI Health St. Francis Family and Behavioral Medicine, said. Processed foods bring extra fat, sugars and starches.
But along with diet goes exercise. You can eat the right foods, but sitting all day will still make it difficult to keep your weight down.
Cody Raile, a certified personal trainer who owns Feel Fit health and fitness club in Grand Island, told us that you can be creative. There are many ways to get exercise beside getting on exercise equipment at a gym and going for a run.
Playing with your dog can give you a workout. Splashing around a swimming pool is another way to get moving. Some like to dance around the house. And a little activity several times a day can add up.
Dietitian Salena Hirschbrunner told us the latest recommendation is that the 30 minutes of exercise needed to get some benefits don’t have to be all at one time. It might be split into three 10-minute sessions, for instance.
In working with people, Raile said he starts “really small,” going for five or eight minutes.
So if you’re resolving to be more active in the new year, that’s a helpful place to start.
The percentage of Nebraska adults who smoke went down 27% between 2011 and 2019. But Khan of UNMC said those numbers should be even lower.
Reducing the number of smokers could have a snowball effect on other health outcomes, he said. It likely would lower the rates of heart disease, cancer and premature death.
So resolving to stop smoking this year is a good step. Get the help through the smoking cessation program offered by CHI Health St. Francis.
Controlling alcohol use is also extremely important in improving our health.
The percentage of adults in the state who report binge drinking — that’s four drinks for a woman and five for a man — has been consistently higher than the country at large.
In 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 21.9% of Nebraskans reported binge drinking within the previous 30 days, compared with 18.6% nationally.
One very good point found in the Unhealthy Nebraska investigation is that abuse of prescription drugs and use of illegal drugs is not as much of a problem in Nebraska as it is in most states.
Nebraska ranked third-lowest among the states in the percentage of adults who reported abusing prescription drugs or using illicit drugs (aside from marijuana) in the last 12 months, United Health Foundation reported in its 2020 America’s Health Rankings.
Realistically determining the state of our own health is a big step in improving it. With regular preventive health care we can take steps to improve the areas where we’re not as healthy as we should be.
But no one can do that for us. It’s up to each of us to achieve our resolutions.