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Health, Science & Tech

Survey To Gauge Health Of Allegheny County Residents

The Allegheny County Health Department will be conducting a survey with the help of the University of Pittsburgh in the next few weeks to gauge the overall health of the county.

The 25-minute survey will be conducted by phone with about 9,000 county residents in an effort to fill in some big blank spots in the data.

“We get information about when a person’s born, if they get something that we call a ‘reportable disease,’ one of the food-borne diseases or a sexually transmitted disease, but if they don’t come down with a reportable disease during their life, we don’t really get information on them again until they die,” said Dr. LuAnn Brink, chief epidemiologist and deputy director of the ACHD.

The interviewer will ask the resident about their general health practices, such as how often they visit their physician, their alcohol or tobacco use, or their physical activity, according to Brink.

The state conducts a similar survey every year, but it only reaches a few hundred Allegheny County residents.

“We just don’t feel as though that gives us rich enough information on who is engaging in the risk factors that we want to intervene upon and how we can do that,” said Brink. “This is our one real opportunity to assess who has the bad habits, who has the good habits, what can we do to increase the proportion of people with those good habits.”

A similar survey was conducted in 2009 to about 5,000 Allegheny County residents. The report was used as part of the ACHD’s Community Health Assessment as well as the ACHD’s 2015 Plan for a Healthier Allegheny. The plan outlines how to tackle priority health issues in the county, which include access to health care, mental health and substance abuse, and chronic disease prevention. According to Brink, the 2015 survey will be used to assess the plan’s strategies.

Information from the 2009 survey has also been helpful for researchers in other departments of the ACHD.

“Adverse childhood experiences,” such as abuse or neglect, is an area of interest for the ACHD’s maternal and child health department. The 2009 survey found that 15 percent of Allegheny County adults reported being physically, mentally or sexually abused as a child, and these adults were less likely to achieve higher education or a higher household income later in life. Brink said the maternal and child health department will create awareness programs for new generations based on these results, as well as 2015 data.

The resident remains anonymous during the survey except for characteristics such as gender and race. The ACHD uses that data to better understand which demographics face particular health issues. The department also records residents’ general locations within the county so it can pinpoint issues that affect specific municipalities and districts.

“If we notice a particular area with high smoking rates or high obesity rates, we can target some of our programming and interventions to try to mitigate some of these issues,” said Brink.

The survey was fully funded by the Highmark Foundation, UPMC, the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the contributors to the Public Health Improvement Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation.