Erie County has weighty problem

SANDUSKY It's the sort of statistic that rolls off the page and settles in the gut like a bad batch
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



It's the sort of statistic that rolls off the page and settles in the gut like a bad batch of chicken cacciatore.

More than seven out of 10 Erie County adults are overweight or obese, while one of every four children in the county have weight problems, according to data from the 2008 Erie County Health Assessment, released by the county health department Friday.

"Of the things we saw that were of concern: obesity in the whole county," said Sharon Schaeffer, community health director at Erie County Health Department. "The adult obesity rate is high and has been climbing since the last assessment. A lot of the issues we saw -- diabetes, cardiovascular, arthritis, obesity -- are all preventable."

Schaeffer and health department officials released the county health assessment to about 50 community leaders, all of whom weighed in on the data's sometimes startling implications. The report is available at the health department's Web site,

The 173-page study fleshed out trends on dozens of adult- and youth-specific health issues in Erie County, including sexually transmitted diseases, alcohol and drug use, eating and exercise, quality of life and more.

"I was really surprised when I saw the statistics on obesity for the children," said Erie County Commissioner Bill Monaghan.

"Maybe we need to have a little more outreach with the parents, too."

Monaghan said he was surprised, too, at the number of teenagers consuming alcohol and engaged in sexual activity.

"I was going, 'Holy smokes,'" Monaghan said. "I was really surprised to see those statistics."

In 2008, for instance, almost 30 percent of Erie County children ages 12 to 18 had sexual intercourse, a number that jumps to 63 percent for youth ages 17 to 18. About 30 percent of sexually active children began having sex as young as 13 years old, according to the study.

In 2008, 57 percent of 12- to 18-year-olds in Erie County reported consuming at least one alcoholic drink in their life, a number that jumped to 85 percent by the time teenagers were 17 to 18 years old, the study showed.

Among all Erie County youth who reported drinking alcohol within 30 days of the survey, about two in three engaged in at least one episode of binge drinking.

Another truth drawn from the health assessment: If a teenager opened the door to one risky behavior -- be it drugs, sex or violence -- he or she was more apt to open the door to another risky behavior down the road.

"Of the 12- to 18-year-olds who reported smoking, that group also had a higher rate of teen sex, getting in fights or smoking marijuana," Schaeffer said. "It confirms the fact that if you have teens who participate in one risky behavior, they're more likely to participate in other things we consider risky."

Armed with these new findings, leaders at local social agencies and school districts can start pushing for programs that focus on education and prevention, precisely the direction Schaeffer and her team are hoping to go. The study's results could also help those same agencies target their efforts to obtain grants combating specific health problems in the county, Schaeffer said.

"Prevention is the direction we'll be going in," she said. "From a public health perspective, prevention is much less expensive than treating the disease after you have it."

Schaeffer is available to discuss the study's findings to small groups or others interested in a more detailed analysis. She can be reached at 419-626-5623, extension 185.