Central Valley

Central Valley health report brings mixed news

A sweeping report released Thursday offers some good news and bad news on the health of Central Valley residents.

The Great Valley Center assessed more than two dozen health care indicators, from health insurance coverage and a lack of physicians to infants' low birth weight and rising asthma rates, in "The State of the Great Central Valley: Public Health and Access to Care." The first report was written in 2003.

The good news: smoking rates are down, more children are being immunized and heart disease has declined in some areas.

The bad news: Parts of the Central Valley still lag behind national goals for immunization of children under 2-years-old and reducing rates of heart disease.

"We're not making a lot of progress to lead healthier lives in the Central Valley and that's disappointing," Great Valley Center President David Hosley said.

Doctor shortages and "pockets of poverty" continue to be a problem in most of the 18 counties surveyed, from Shasta to Kern, he said.

The North Sacramento Valley (Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Shasta and Tehama) and San Joaquin Valley (Merced, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Tulare, San Joaquin and Stanislaus) had the highest rates of uninsured residents, at 18.6% and 16.5% respectively.

The uninsured rate in the Sacramento metropolitan region stands at 9.3%. In 2005, about 15% of Californians reported they lacked health insurance.

According to the report, Yolo, Placer, Sacramento and Shasta counties had the highest rate of doctors per 1,000 people. The San Joaquin Valley had lower physician access than the state average. Placer County had the most doctors, three per 1,000 people.

Even as the smoking rate has declined, that habit among Central Valley residents is still greater than the rest of the state. The rates of binge drinking and heart attacks are also higher.

Kings County had the highest diabetes death rate - more than twice the 21.1 per 100,000 people in Sacramento County, between 2003 and 2005.

The Central Valley has the highest rate of women not receiving early prenatal care. The North Sacramento Valley and San Joaquin Valley have the highest percentages of women who received late or no prenatal care, 18.8% and 19.4% respectively.

The findings were based on state and national government data and the most recent findings from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), conducted every two years since 2001.