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The ailing citizenry of Scottsbluff

February 24, 2010

Back when I was investigating Scottsbluff as a place to live, I of course Googled it and found its Wikipedia entry. The page contained the following none-too-flattering factoid, courtesy of qualityhealth.com:

WalMart shoppers?

Geez. Given that having fat friends can make you fat, too, did I really want to move to Scottsbluff?

When I visited Scottsbluff, the populace didn’t appear to be any more tubby than anywhere else I’ve lived.

I’ve mentioned the disconnect between the article and my observations to a few Scottsbluff residents, and the general response seems to be “Yeah, but did you go to WalMart? That’s where all the fat people are.”

Ahem . . . interesting implications, given that the speakers would have to have been in the WalMart to have made the observation.

With the great opportunities for running in the Scottsbluff area and the interesting places to hike, like Wildcat Hills and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, I figured that the obesity data was some kind of statistical fluke.

Then, all over the news recently, were the county health rankings released in a University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report. Scotts Bluff County ranked in the bottom 10 counties in the state, healthwise.

I actually hollered at the newscaster on TV. “What? Are you kidding? With all the outdoor activities there are here?”

But then I got to thinking about what I’ve learned about the Scottsbluff area since I’ve moved here. “It’s got to be related to poverty. Poverty and obesity are linked.”

I just checked the data. According to 2006 U.S. Census estimates, Scotts Bluff County has the fifth highest percentage of people living in poverty in Nebraska, at 17.8%. Guess it makes sense to go looking for the obese at a low-cost retail establishment.

Television news provides maddeningly little substance to its headlines, so I had to turn to the Internet to really parse out what the Scotts Bluff County health ranking was based on. Here’s a screen shot from the report available on the Nebraska county health rankings site:

And here were Scotts Bluff County’s rankings in those areas, out of 75 counties studied:

  • Mortality: 71
  • Morbidity: 73
  • Health behaviors: 61
  • Clinical care: 2 (A bright spot. We even beat Lincoln’s Lancaster County on this one. Three cheers for Regional West!)
  • Socioeconomic factors: 72
  • Physical environment: 31

In summary, Scotts Bluff County residents are more likely than other residents of the state to die younger, be sicker, live unhealthier lives, and live in poverty. Yikes. That’s a big challenge. The county health rankings website provides some suggestions about how to take action.

This got me to thinking about my earlier assumption that outdoor opportunities should correlate to health. Other than the obvious problems of having to work three jobs to make ends meet and having no time, or not having a vehicle to access the outdoor recreation sites, there’s this fact: public lands may belong to the public, but access ain’t free.

To wander in Wildcat Hills, you need to pay $4 per day, or $20 for an annual pass (which has to be “permanently affixed” to one, and only one, vehicle). To visit Scotts Bluff National Monument or Agate Fossil Beds, you need to pay $3 per person or $5 per car for a week’s use (Whaat? Two bicyclists or hikers must pay more than a carful of people??), or $15 for a local annual pass.

Can’t say that if I were struggling to make ends meet I would choose to spend my last dollar on access to a state or federal park.

The local YMCA offers discounted or waived fees for people with limited incomes. I can’t find any links indicating that low-income people can catch a break on admission fees to publicly-owned lands, with two exceptions for the federal lands pass, which is reduced from $80 to $10 for seniors (regardless of income) and is free for disabled individuals.

Interesting . . .

Text copyright 2010 by Katie. Image credit to geo_c at sxc.hu.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 24, 2010 2:16 pm

    Fantastic and extensive research!

  2. March 29, 2010 3:57 pm

    Katie,
    We were actually approached by an NBC affiliate about Scottsbluff being the Star of a a biggest loser community reality show because of those statistics. We do have a bariatric center here and have wondered if that might have been part of the statistics…hmmmm….Great research and I like you, was quite shocked when I saw the statistics as I have always been pretty active. I love that someone told you…go to Walmart…as that is exactly what I was told when I questioned it. Interesting!
    Darla

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