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Release: March 5, 1999

March 5, 1999

Risk factors, health outcomes identified in UI's Keokuk County Rural Health Study

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Residents of Iowa's Keokuk County lead in some important indicators of health but lag in other areas, according to initial data collected by the University of Iowa's Keokuk County Rural Health Study.

Keokuk County residents reported elevated rates of injury and childhood asthma, lower rates of seatbelt usage, and infrequent use of protective equipment when performing hazardous agricultural activities, according to researchers. However, fewer people in the county reported having smoked cigarettes in their lifetime compared to residents of Iowa as a whole. Study participants also rated their health as better than did residents of Iowa as a whole and the U.S as a whole.

"A number of health outcomes identified in this initial round of data collection can be improved through prevention and will be targeted for further study in round 2, which will begin in March," said James Merchant, M.D., Dr. P.H., UI professor and head of preventive medicine and environmental health, and principal investigator of the study.

The study population consisted of 2,258 of the 11,624 persons living in Keokuk County. In all, 1,004 of the 4,574 families in the county participated in the first round of the study.

Study findings of concern to researchers were high rates of injury and childhood asthma. Some 24 percent of adults and 23 percent of children had sustained an injury in the past 12 months. Among children, rates of asthma were high (12 percent) compared to other published studies.

Seatbelt use was low, especially for men. Only 27 percent of men and 39 percent of adolescent boys reported always using a seatbelt when they drove a vehicle in the past 30 days. Few farmers used protective engineering controls, such as cabs (37 percent) and roll-over protection structures (8 percent) on tractors, and very few always wore personal protective equipment, such as gloves, when using farm chemicals.

An important positive health behavior identified by the study was that only 37 percent of Keokuk County residents have smoked cigarettes in their lifetime, compared to 47 percent of Iowans as a whole. Only 17 percent of Keokuk County residents are current smokers.

Study participants rated their health as somewhat better than did residents of Iowa as a whole and the country as a whole. Some 90 percent of county residents studied reported that they are in "excellent, very good or good health," compared to 88 percent of all Iowans surveyed by the Iowa Department of Public Health and 86 percent of all Americans surveyed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the coming months UI investigators will look in depth at the information collected in order to evaluate associations between environmental exposures and specific health outcomes. This nationally recognized study, funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is planned to continue for 20 years.

For more information about the Keokuk County Rural Health Study, call the research office in Sigourney at (515) 622-2371 or (800) 551-0451.