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Health & Medicine

Behavior is a Key Factor in Determining The Quality of Health in Onondaga County

Scott Willis

Onondaga County’s health commissioner says recent rankings of the community’s overall health indicate our behaviors are more of a factor in determining health outcomes more than the availability and quality of care. While residents can make better choices, social and economic factors also come in to play. 

Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta says the big picture is key when looking at a person’s overall health. 

"In public health we say ‘everything affects health,’ and then also ‘health affects everything.’"

She says it doesn’t necessarily come down to making that doctor’s appointment.  Rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation show Onondaga County has among the best clinical care in the state.  But Gupta says that only accounts for 20 percent of a health outcome.

“Health doesn’t mean healthcare. Health means where we live, where we go to school, the way we socialize, and where we work. This all has to be considered because everything around us shapes our health. From our family structures to our neighborhoods”

As a former clinician herself, Gupta says the best care only goes so far if patients don’t do their part.

"Outside of that wonderful hospital system which we have, or the provider network we have, we don’t have enough to change people’s behavior like having good healthy food or smoking rates. All these things are so important and contributes to our health outcome ultimately."

Onondaga County has exhibited an upward trend in unintentional heroin and fentanyl related deaths since 2012.
Credit Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office

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But what can the health department do to help change people’s behaviors?  There are any number of awareness campaigns, even free screenings and vaccinations.  Gupta says their own surveys show most are concerned about substance and alcohol abuse, and not chronic health problems. 

“Drugs are killing rapidly, so it’s getting a lot of attention. Unfortunately something like obesity and all, is slow and over decades. People get high blood pressure. They get diabetes. Things kind of stretch on. Unfortunately that doesn’t get a lot of attention.”

The county does have a higher opioid overdose death rate than the rest of the state.  As co-chair of a drug task force, Gupta hopes she and other stakeholders can arrive at a solution.