BY CASEY MURPHY
George Roberts believes higher educational attainment means higher income and improved community health.
Roberts, chief executive officer of Northeast Texas Public Health District, and Christi Khalaf, executive director of the Business Education Council, gave a presentation Tuesday to Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce Board members about studies they have done in their respective fields and the relationship between education and health.
Roberts said the biggest issues facing Smith County are obesity and cancer, and many believe there needs to be a culture change. He said it was one of the reasons why the Fit City initiative was formed.
When looking at the data, Roberts said Smith County has a higher prevalence of cancer deaths — especially lung, breast and prostate cancer — as well as high blood pressure and high cholesterol compared to the rest of the state.
Chronic disease prevalence rates here are consistently lower than the region’s average rates. Smith County is better off with diabetes and heart disease, but has higher rates of stroke deaths, Roberts said.
“Several key informants cite transportation and access to care as major issues,” Roberts said. “Weather, safety, busy schedules and a lack of childcare are some of the biggest barriers to physical activity for Smith County residents.”
The county is becoming more diverse and has seen significant increases in minority populations, he said. Rates of chronic diseases, such as obesity, are projected to affect those populations in greater proportions in the future, he said.
While Roberts gathered information on local health, Ms. Khalaf was busy collecting data on educational attainment in the Tyler area.
She said counties with more high school and college graduates also are better off in health care and have lower poverty rates. Those who go to college often make more money and can afford better care so they are healthier, she added.
Ms. Khalaf said 34 percent of Smith County residents 25 and older have an associate’s degree or higher, while 42 percent don’t have any continuing education beyond high school.
Of those aged 18 to 25, about 20 percent earn a postsecondary credential — from a certificate to a degree — while only 8.5 percent of economically disadvantaged students earn one. She said 60 percent of Smith County children are considered economically disadvantaged, up from 30 percent in 1990.
Smith County has lower rates of poverty than surrounding areas and the state averages, but more than the national rate, Roberts said, adding that the amount in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the state’s rate of change.
The rate of people older than 65 years old in poverty is growing at a faster rate in Smith County but the amount of uninsured children here is decreasing, he said.
Smith County ranked 58 overall in Texas in the 2013 County Health Rankings. Roberts said one of the things that makes Tyler better than some other counties is better access to physicians here.
Ms. Khalaf said she plans to post the entire presentation today at www.tylertexas.com/pages/BusinessEducationCouncil.