Just like secondhand smoke, unhealthy habits hurt us all. In Coos County, they hurt a lot.

Rankings by the Public Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation put us dead last -- to coin a phrase -- among Oregon's 33 counties for a list of poor health behaviors: smoking cigarettes, obesity, excessive drinking and deadly driving.

So much for role models. Yet even if you forgo tobacco, eat sensibly, exercise, imbibe in moderation, and drive like a DMV examiner, you still pay for your neighbors' mistakes.

That's because:
• Sick days and long-term disabilities boost the cost of goods and services we buy, as well as the taxes we pay.
• Health insurers base their rates on regional profiles. Our smokers, overeaters and drunken drivers are an invitation for an insurer's actuaries to raise everyone's premiums.

Hoping to brighten this grim picture, the Coos County Health Department -- aided by the Coos County Friends of Public Health, the Northwest Health Foundation's Community Health Priorities grant, and Bay Area Hospital -- has organized four public forums to promote better health.

Two sessions remain:
• 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the Community Health Education Center, 3950 Sherman Ave., North Bend.
• 5:30 p.m. the next Thursday, April 27, at The Barn in Bandon.

On May 12, city councilors, large employers, business leaders, school superintendents and the like will reap the ideas from the forums to devise strategies to improve Coos County's wellness.

Strategies are a good start, but the cause also needs champions. What service clubs, businesses and local institutions will exert active leadership to make wellness a priority for our communities?

We'll go first: The World is eager to provide news coverage and promotional support, in print and online. Will you do your part as well?

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