Statistics from a local health assessment conducted last November by the Texas County Health Department show that three in four of the child deaths last year in Texas County were due to children not properly wearing seat belts or being buckled in car seats during a car crash.

Evidence shows seat belts and car seats save lives. Every child death from not wearing a seat belt is a preventable tragedy.

“If we can help people in our community develop the habit of buckling up – every one, every time, no exceptions – we can save lives and ensure a longer, healthier future for our children,” said health department director Jackie Smith.

The county health department plans to work with community partners over the next three years to promote seat belt and car seat use for infants and children to reduce unintentional injuries from motor vehicle accidents, Smith said. The focus area was ranked in the top three priorities for public health attention in a recent community-wide survey on maternal and child health issues in Texas County. Funding for the project is from the Maternal, Child contract with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

The health assessment showed Texas County faces the same challenges as many other rural communities: Lower wages, higher poverty rates and fewer resources. The county has a 95-percent high school graduation rate, but less than half of graduates pursue any college education and the high school drop-out rate is increasing.

Youth are disconnected, engaging in increasing rates of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, smoking and law violations, Smith said. Mental healthcare services for youth ages 6 – 13 are increasing, and more students say they feel very sad, hopeless and are considering suicide than in past years. More students also report being bullied, Smith said.

“They say alcohol is easy to get, and, on average, try alcohol for the first time before they turn 12 years old,” she said. “Deaths among youth age 15 – 17 have more than doubled. Teen pregnancy rates are up, and less than 20-percent of mothers are getting adequate prenatal care. Nutrition behavior is improving, but child obesity rates continue to climb. More children are without health insurance than in past years. The homelessness rate is increasing. Child abuse and neglect rates are increasing and infant mortality rates are increasing.”

The health department’s community survey helped identify key issues to focus on.

“In addition to the seat belt and implementing a car seat program, efforts must continue to provide strong public health programs and services that impact every person every day – improve health for pregnant women, ensure food safety, reduce the spread of disease, protect children and adolescents and provide public health information,” Smith said.

To read the full Maternal, Child Health Local Assessment or the Process and Findings Report that led to identification of the seat belt and car seat priority focus area, call the Texas County Health Department at 417-967-4131, log onto http://www.texascountyhealth.org/Community%20Health%20Assessment.aspx or go to the department’s  Facebook page.

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