The annual County Health Rankings released last week placed Phelps County 74th out of 115 counties ranked in Missouri, a slight decline from the county’s 71st placement in the 2017 report.

The report published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, compared and ranked counties within each state “focusing action on all of the factors that influence health, especially those that contribute the most, such as social and economic factors.”

The 2018 report shed light on a few key components that prompted the three-point drop in rank for Phelps County, illustrating an increase in obesity and an increase in physical inactivity. However, there was a considerable increase in exercise opportunities available.

With a 22 percent increase in exercise opportunities from 60 percent in 2017 to 82 percent in 2018, it would seem that obesity and physical inactivity would have declined in Phelps County, yet director of Parks and Recreation at The Centre, Rolla’s Health and Recreation Complex, Floyd Jernigan, indicated a reason for this stems from a larger societal problem relating to an all-encompassing rise in technology.

“The increase in technology makes things easier for us, so as a result I think there is less emphasis on being active because of that,” said Jernigan.

The obesity rate measured in the 2018 County Health report used data from adults aged 20 and older with a body mass index of 30 or higher; accordingly, Phelps County had a 30 percent obesity rate – a 2 percent hike from last year

Jernigan finds it particularly concerning because it comes at a time where research clearly establishes a direct link between inactivity and obesity.

Similarly, a 2017 report on the causes of obesity released by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases found that among adults and youths, physical inactivity, use of computers, TV, phones and other screen time are the main contributors to weight gain.

“Life has gotten easier and less physical,” observed Jernigan. “People don’t have gardens like they used to, and people aren’t out; instead, they are staying in binge- watching TV, and playing video games, which just makes it much more challenging to be active.”

The county-level estimates of obesity and physical inactivity were found using three years of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program, according to the County Health report.

And Phelps County surpassed the U.S. average of 23 percent when it comes to physical inactivity, garnering 30 percent relating to not getting the recommended amount of physical activity, gaining 1 percent from last year.

It may seem that physical inactivity is not detrimental to someone’s health, yet the World Health Organization released a report this year that conveys lack of physical activity – not to be confused with exercise – is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide; moreover, “a key risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.”

WHO recommends adults participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, defining physical activity as any bodily movement, such as doing chores and commuting to and from work.

Jernigan, who is dedicated to his work at the Centre where the mission is “to enhance our regions quality of life by promoting health and wellness for all ages and fitness levels,” notes that two years ago at an international council on aging and athletic fitness conference he attended, a lot of the newest research linked maintaining health with age to regular exercise.

“Walking on a regular basis has a direct impact on dementia, so if you are doing regular walking for 30 minutes a day you greatly lessen the likelihood of getting dementia,” said Jernigan.

The County Health report was issued to bring awareness of the many facets that influence health, and to connect and empower community leaders to work to improve health, and Jernigan is doing just that with his genuine caring and guidance for the community in Phelps County.