Connecting state and local government leaders
“I wish I had this tool when I was a local health officer,” says the co-director of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Program at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
LONG BEACH, Calif. — When trying to understand the scope of health and wellness in communities in the United States, state-level rankings often give a limited picture of reality. Colorado, for instance, is generally regarded as one of the nation’s healthiest states, where residents have access to ample recreational activities, live active lifestyles and have low rates of obesity.
But when you drill down into county-specific health information, the picture gets a bit more complex.
Thanks to CountyHealthRankings.org, a county-specific health data portal that’s funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is managed by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, local decisionmakers and others can access a trove of information and statistics about various health outcomes and factors.
“I wish I had this tool when I was a local health officer,” Julie Willems Van Dijk, co-director, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Program at the UW Population Health Institute, said on Sunday during a Healthy Counties breakout session during the National Association of Counties 81st Annual Conference and Exposition.
So in the case of Colorado, you can drill down into county-specific data about physical inactivity for those age 20 and older.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Boulder County, home to the University of Colorado and ample parks and recreation options, has a very low physical inactivity rate—just 9 percent. But Kit Carson County, a rural jurisdiction on the Kansas border, the physical inactivity rate is 27 percent.
The tool allows county vs. county comparisons across a variety of health outcomes and factors. So when Boulder County and Kit Carson County are measured against one another, you can get a better picture for some of the health challenges those jurisdictions are dealing with.
With a low physical inactivity rate, Kit Carson County has a higher adult obesity rate—27 percent to Boulder County’s 13 percent. Boulder County has a 98 percent rate for access to exercise opportunities; Kit Carson County has a 58 percent rate using that measure.
Looking at access to clinical care, it’s not necessarily surprising that a low-population rural jurisdiction like Kit Carson County would have lower levels of access to doctors, dentists and mental health specialists compared to a more populated county like Boulder.
While Boulder County has a primary care physician ratio of 800:1, Kit Carson’s ratio is 2,680:1; for dentists, it’s 1,160:1 for Boulder County to Kit Carson’s 8,070:1; and for mental health providers, the ratio is 170:1 in Boulder County while it’s 2,020:1 in Kit Carson County.
Other data categories available include unemployment, child poverty, violent crime rates, excessive drinking, smoking and sexually transmitted infections, among others.
“We must look at all of the different areas that contribute to length of life and quality of life,” Willems Van Dijk told the NACo audience. That way, she said, decisionmakers can craft better and more targeted policy strategies to improve health and wellness outcomes.
Explore more at CountyHealthRankings.org ...
Michael Grass is Executive Editor for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.