Although the numbers have dropped in recent years, the hard drinking and two-packs-a-day cigarette habit is ruining the health of many valley residents, says a study released today
San Joaquin Valley residents outpace the rest of the state in alcohol and tobacco use. They are also more likely to die from heart attacks, strokes or cancer, says a Great Valley Center study on the health status of the Central Valley.
Excessive drinking in the valley has declined since 2003, when almost 30 percent of residents told a statewide survey they had at least one heavy drinking episode in the past month.
The number fell to 18 percent in an updated survey, yet heavy drinking is still more common here than in the Bay Area and in Southern California, the study says.
Despite a national decline in cigarette smoking, the valley still has more smokers than other regions of California. The valley has dropped four percentage points since 1999, the study says.
“We know that smoking is a risk factor leading to lung cancer and heart disease,” said Phoebe Leung, a health educator for Stanislaus County Health Services Agency. “It definitely impacts the health of people in the county.”
Some valley counties are shortchanged by the state’s method of distributing Proposition 99 tobacco tax funds, which are used to support anti-smoking campaigns. The state distributes the money to counties based on their 1990 population, even though counties such as Stanislaus had explosive growth within the past 18 years.
Stanislaus County receives $150,000 in tobacco tax money per year, which isn’t enough to pay for extensive anti-smoking campaigns.
The Great Valley Center assessed more than two dozen health care indicators, from health insurance coverage and a lack of physicians to infants' low birth weight and rising asthma rates, in "The State of the Great Central Valley: Public Health and Access to Care." The first report was written in 2003.
The study found that more children are being immunized and heart disease has declined in some areas. Parts of the valley still lag behind national goals for immunization of children under 2 years old and reducing rates of heart disease.