By Bill Baertlein, Tillamook County Commissioner

When the Tillamook County Board of Commissioners proclaimed 2016 as the “Year of Wellness,” we were putting a spotlight on community health and the role we all play in supporting the health and wellbeing of our fellow citizens. 

As you will read in the special 2017 Progress Section, dozens of volunteers representing healthcare, private business, non-profit, and social service agencies have all worked together to increase awareness of and access to the abundant health-promoting activities, classes, programs, and events already being offered right here in Tillamook County. In recent months, our Year of Wellness Task Force (YOW) has convened for a series of strategic planning workshops facilitated by Steven Blakesley, OHSU North Coast Community Research Liaison and Jessica Linnell, OSU Extension Family & Community Health faculty.  Through the strategic planning process, the task force identified the need to focus on one community health priority in order to make a significant, measurable impact, and chose to address diabetes.  After selecting the health priority, the workshops involved learning how to find evidence-based approaches, adapting programs for Tillamook County, ways of tracking and measuring the work to determine if it is making a difference, and creating a framework for action.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the body cannot use insulin properly or cannot make enough of it.  Insulin is a hormone that is needed to help regulate blood sugar levels, and when diabetes is not well managed or controlled, it can lead to serious health consequences, even death.  There are two types of diabetes: type 1 is a genetic, auto-immune disease, and type 2 occurs when cells become insulin resistant and the pancreas loses the ability to produce enough insulin over time.  Type 2 diabetes makes up 90-95% of all cases and is widely considered to be preventable.  Approximately 287,000 adults in Oregon live with diabetes and 1.1 million more individuals may be prediabetic according to the 2015 Oregon Diabetes Report.  That’s more than one-third of our state’s population. The report also states that the estimated cost to treat diabetes is $2.2 billion each year. 

According to the most recent Oregon Health Authority data*, approximately 9% of the citizens of Tillamook County have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and many more of our residents go undiagnosed or are considered prediabetic. People who are most at risk for developing type 2 diabetes are typically older, although many children are now being diagnosed at increasing rates.  Other factors include obesity, genetics, physical inactivity, and childhood trauma.  Unhealthy eating patterns, smoking, drugs, and alcohol are also factors.

To reduce our risk for type 2 diabetes, we can’t do much about our age or genetics, but we can create community programs around lifestyle changes.  Our local Food Bank, OSU SNAP-Ed, Food Roots, the Rinehart Clinic, Northwest Senior & Disability Services, and Adventist Health are just some of the local partners offering nutrition education and cooking classes.  The YMCA, and the North Coast Recreational District (NCRD), along with a host of dance, yoga, and outdoor recreation partners are here to help folks get moving.  We also have local waterways, parks, trails, and walking paths that are free and open to everyone. 

All of our healthcare partners have Care Coordinators who are ready and willing to assist patients with the challenges they face in changing their lifestyle habits. The Tillamook Family Counseling Center is also on board providing mental and behavioral health support.

As you can see, we have all the right ingredients in our community to help people reduce their risk of developing diabetes and other chronic health conditions.  And we have many resources available to support those who need a little help managing their health and disease risk.

In the coming months, our Year of Wellness Task Force will be working to create innovative strategies to build on these existing resources to help reduce our community’s risk and rate for this serious disease. We hope you are as excited about this as we are and that you will join us in this effort to make Tillamook County a healthier and happier place for everyone to live, work, and play

*Oregon Health Authority report

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