Health outcomes improving in the county

It has been a pleasure working and living in this community for many years. As health care changes, we in the healthcare field know we must make changes in how we deliver medicine based on the newest science.

And the newest science on health outcomes confirms what we have known –– there is no pill that substitutes for a good diet, weight control and physical activity. The focus of this Mountain Medicine column is on making the best decisions to improve health outcomes.

The CDC reports that the annual incidence rates of adult obesity in the U.S., defined as a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30.0, continues to rise from 27.4 percent in 2011 to 29.6 percent in 2016.

Oregon is only slightly behind these averages. Some chronic diseases linked to obesity include diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Each year, Oregon spends about $1.6 billion for obesity-related conditions. The Oregon Health Authority keeps track of health risk by county. Wallowa County rates 2012-2015 were below Oregon averages for obesity, high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure. Our community is doing a pretty good job in reducing the risk factors associated with these chronic medical conditions.

However, these relatively lower rates are not cause for complacency. As health care professionals, we see daily how devastating chronic diseases are for a significant number of our community members.

We need to continue to strive to reduce risk factors for chronic diseases by promoting greater physical activity and more healthful food choices.

For example, the 2016 Health Assessment that Wallowa County participated in found a slight decrease in the rate of adults consuming at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

County Health Rankings ( reported for 2018 that 57 percent of Wallowa County residents had adequate access to locations for physical activity, substantially lower than the state average of 77 percent.

And 40 percent also identified needing more affordable places to buy healthy food, while 29 percent identified needing more opportunities to reduce stress. Feeling stressed, anxious or depressed were the most commonly reported problems among all respondents across all age groups for Wallowa County in 2016.

Each of us can make daily positive choices to affect our health. We can choose to buy healthful foods including more vegetables and fruit.

We can find opportunities to walk outside with friends and family to connect to others, to decrease the stress in our lives and to improve our sleep.

Over the years of co-teaching CHIP classes with Dr. Ken Rose as well as teaching Diabetes Undone classes, educating people on lifestyle changes including sleep management, stress management, improving nutrition and increasing activity has shown amazing benefits.

We have seen significant improvements in weight control, cholesterol levels, blood pressures and in blood sugar control in our participants.

Our community members will benefit if we can find additional ways to reduce these chronic diseases by making it easier for people to make good health choices. Studies show that healthy eating and active living are supported when communities provide improved access to healthy foods and to safe environments for daily exercise.

The bottom line. As we come into another fall and winter season, it is important to help prevent common chronic medical conditions by reducing excessive weight, staying active, choosing healthy foods and maintaining healthy stress relief techniques such as good sleep hygiene.

I hope that each person is looking at ways to improve their own health, one decision at a time, as we strive to decrease the rise of chronic medical diseases in Wallowa County.

Dr. Emily Sheahan is a family medicine specialist who has been practicing for 13 years. Mountain Medicine is a collaboration between Ron Polk and several members of the county’s medical community.


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