Obesity, mental health top priorities in Berks

A recently released study paints a worrisome but not altogether surprising picture of Berks County residents’ health, officials said.

A recently released study paints a worrisome but not altogether surprising picture of Berks County residents’ health, officials said.

The 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment, publicly released this month, shows a majority of the residents are affected by poor diet, lack of physical activity, obesity and mental health concerns.

And of those, obesity and behavior/mental health issues are priorities that need to be addressed, health officials said.

The 2015 study is by the Berks County Health Collaborative, comprised of Berks Community Health Center, Berks County Community Foundation, Penn State Health St. Joseph, Reading Health System and United Way of Berks County.

The community health assessment is mandated every three years by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for hospital systems to maintain their nonprofit status, according to Mary Hahn, vice president for strategy and business development at Penn State Health St. Joseph. A community health study also was done in 2013.

Mary Kargbo, CEO of Berks Community Health Center, which provides health care to largely low-income people, said she was struck by the data that showed a strong link between disease and poverty and social well-being, so-called social determinants.

Poor housing conditions can adversely affect asthma, for example, Kargbo said. And areas that lack supermarkets can affect a community’s health.

“If you cannot buy good food, your diabetes does not get better,” she said.

Local health care officials and members of social service agencies who participated in the study identified four areas that need to be addressed the next three years:

Access to care: Refers to issues such as inability to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses, difficulty navigating the health care system, lack of health insurance, language/cultural barriers, time limitations (long wait times, limited office hours, time off from work) and transportation issues such as lack of transportation or reliance on public transportation.

Wendy Solomon

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