County's bad health habits on rise

You couldn’t get a poll with more mixed news than the latest three-year report on health and quality of life in San Mateo County. The most positive finding is that local death rates from cancer, heart disease and strokes are less than in 1990. And Peninsula adult obesity is still 10 percent below the national average, although it is a hefty 56.7 percent and climbing. Also, 38.4 percent of Peninsula residents claim they eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, an improvement of 7 percent since 2004.

But binge drinking among younger men has soared to near epidemic levels. Nearly half of the county’s 18- to 24-year-old men admitted having five or more drinks at one sitting, according to the new report produced by 15 government agencies, nonprofits and hospitals.

County health officer Dr. Scott Morrow says the drinking is “not a genetic shift,” but instead a disturbing “cultural trend” that has “skyrocketed in the last 10 years.” In contrast, less than one-tenth of the 18- to 24-year-old women and only 14.7 percent of the total adult population said they were binge drinkers.

Teenagers smoking is another cause for concern, with 18 percent of 11th-graders having smoked a cigarette in the last 30 days. Meanwhile, only 11 percent of county adults identify themselves as smokers. And of course, more than half of all residents being overweight is nothing to rejoice about. The prevalent obesity is related to rising local rates of high cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as diabetes among 10 percent of adults.

Depression and feelings of isolation afflict one-quarter of county residents. However, the report identifies the high cost of living in San Mateo County as the biggest threat to families here. More than one in three adults said they or a family member have seriously considered leaving the county because of high costs. Low-income parents are working long hours at two or three jobs that provide minimal benefits. Nearly one-fourth of those surveyed for the report say their jobs do not offer employee health coverage — up from one-fifth in 2001. This results in almost one-third of teens aged 13 to 17 not having any after-school supervision.

Fewer than one in 10 adults in San Mateo County take all of the precautions necessary to prevent chronic disease — abstain from smoking, keep their weight down, exercise regularly, and eat adequate fruits and vegetables. And that drops to only 5 percent among lower-education, lower-income subgroups.

So despite better medical care and accessibility showing improvements in handling major illnesses — especially for Peninsula children — a crushing combination of poor health habits and stressful costs of living are ominous portents for the future of San Mateo County.

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