By Sandy Alexander
WASHINGTON – Maryland residents have relatively healthy habits, placing among the top 10 in the nation when it comes to limiting several harmful behaviors and getting some types of preventive care, according to a study released Friday.
There is no overall ranking in the 1997 survey of more than 134,000 individuals in 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. But Maryland finished at or near the top in at least half of the 20 different health indicators in the survey by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study said Maryland had the highest number of women 50 and older who had received both a mammogram and a clinical breast exam in the preceding two years, for example.
“We are awfully glad to hear that kind of information,” said Bronwyn Thompson, executive director of the Maryland affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. “Breast cancer is a very treatable disease if it is caught in its early stages.”
The survey asked about preventive activities such as getting regular check-ups, cancer screenings and cholesterol checks. Participants also answered questions about their lifestyles, including smoking, drinking and seat belt use.
The behaviors in the study “contribute to the leading causes of death: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and certain injuries,” said Michael Greenwell, a CDC spokesman.
Maryland was among the top 10 states for the percentage of people being tested for cervical cancer and for those using home tests for colon cancer. It did not have a high percentage of people undergoing doctor-administered colon cancer tests.
Only 12 percent of Maryland adults had not received a routine physical exam in the two years prior to the survey. In the five years prior to the survey, 74.5 percent of residents said they had received blood cholesterol checks, tying with Oklahoma for the seventh-highest rate in the nation.
Although the survey was designed to measure numbers and not causes, Greenwell said that income, access to health care and insurance can affect whether people are screened for illnesses or not. Only nine states had more people with some type of health coverage than Maryland, and only eight had more people who said cost was not a barrier to care.
The survey also said that:
— Maryland reported the lowest rate of binge drinking of all states and was in the top 10 states for numbers of non-smokers.
— Only nine states had a higher percentage of residents who always wear their seat belts than Maryland.
— The state was just below the top third for obesity and in the top third for high blood pressure and limited physical activity during leisure time.
— Maryland was near the middle of states for high cholesterol.
— The state had the seventh-highest percentage of people in the nation who had been told by a doctor they have diabetes.
Paula Yutzy, a spokeswoman for the Maryland chapter of the American Diabetes Association, said around one in 10 residents has the illness, but many do not realize it.
“It’s a silent disease with a silent population,” said Yutzy, who works as a diabetes educator at Mercy Medical Center. She believes people do not realize how serious the illness is, and often do not seek help when the first signs appear.
Diabetes has been a problem in Maryland for a long time, she said, adding that the state’s large minority population and fairly large elderly population are at high risk for the illness.
The study, which also collected detailed information on the race and ethnicity of respondents, said health care practitioners can encourage their patients to adopt healthy behaviors and health care systems can facilitate preventive measures. The CDC also sees the study as a way to help states recognize gaps in health activities and possibly learn from other states, said Greenwell.