Letter: Bennington County's poor health rankings

The Bennington Oral Health Coalition has known for several years that Bennington has about the worst oral health in the state. We think that a prime reason is that we do not have community water fluoridation.

Be that as it may, we should also be aware that the county as a whole ranks near the bottom for overall health in Vermont. For some years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has looked at County Health Rankings throughout the United States. Vermont has 14 counties and Bennington County ranks 12th in overall health. I would argue that since the county is divided into two demographics (the relatively wealthy to the north and the relatively poor to the south), it is quite possible that the Southshire could rank the very lowest in the state if it were a distinct entity. Details of the study could be found at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

In order to determine the overall health of our county, the study looks at premature deaths and quality of life. Bennington County ranks below average in both of these. The study also looks at health factors such as behaviors, clinical care, social & economic factors, and physical environment. We are worse than average in such things as adult smoking, physical inactivity, teen births, high school graduation, and children in poverty. These are only five of the thirty factors examined. The study does not evaluate our standing in regards to the opiate epidemic.

How could it be that we are so unhealthy? We have a nationally recognized hospital, and all of our doctors and nurses are above average; yet the county as a whole is not in great health. The answer is that our health depends not so much on the hospital, doctors, and nurses, but on the social determinants of health. Things such as employment, income, education, housing, nutrition, transportation and personal habits are known to be most important for one's health. Many of us do not have these things, and Bennington County's social safety net is struggling to keep up.

One thing that we all need to do is to support the organizations in our towns that are striving to

improve the status of our needy citizens. Support could come in the form of volunteer hours, monetary donations, or a positive vote for funding nonprofits at the polls in March.

G. Richard Dundas

Bennington Free Clinic



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