County ranks low in most good health measuresWhen it comes to healthy living, Douglas County has a problem.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
When it comes to healthy living, Douglas County has a problem.
The county ranks high in mortality – premature death – compared to most of the counties in the state. And it fairs only modestly better when it comes to overall health outcomes.
That’s according to a study by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Douglas County ranked 62 of 72 counties in Wisconsin in mortality, and 53 when it comes to health outcomes. St. Louis County in Minnesota fared better, ranking 67 of 85 Minnesota counties in terms of premature death, and 63 in overall health outcomes.
And when it comes to factors that contribute to poor health, Douglas County ranked 52, outpacing state averages for smoking, adult obesity, binge drinking, motor vehicle crash death rates, Chlamydia and teen pregnancy. While St. Louis County had higher rates of smoking and motor vehicle crash deaths, all other factors were on par or better than other Minnesota counties resulting in a ranking of 38.
Adding to the problem in Douglas County is a higher rate of uninsured adults, more preventable hospital stays and significantly higher rates of people who didn’t have dental care.
While fewer Douglas County adults self-reported fair or poor health, they reported higher rates of poor physical and mental health days than adults around the state.
While the study has been done for a number of years in Wisconsin, 2010 marks the first year the study has been offered to all 50 states, said Deb Clasen, deputy director of the Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Unit.
Because of changes in the study gather comparable data, this year’s study isn’t comparable to years past.
“Their caution to us this year was not to compare it to last year’s because the metrics have changed,” Clasen said. “I think 2010 will become more of a benchmark basis for Wisconsin and all the other participating states.”
She said while previous studies are not comparable; Douglas County’s rankings are similar to past years.
“Our county, from a health standpoint, has been more toward a needy county than a healthy county,” she said.
But it’s not all bad news when it comes to factors that can affect health.
When it comes to physical environment Douglas County ranked 44 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Particulate and ozone air pollution were not a factor in the environment and the area fared better when it came to access to healthy foods, such as those provided by food shelves in the region. And in spite of the area’s aging housing stock, incidents of lead-poisoned children were fewer than around the state.
St. Louis County didn’t fair as well, ranking 81 in Minnesota where environmental concerns were higher than other counties in the state.
However, the area did have a higher density of liquor stores – in Wisconsin and Minnesota alike – than the rest of the state.
The healthiest county in Wisconsin is Ozaukee County, which ranked No. 1 in terms of both health outcomes and factors. In Minnesota, Jackson County ranked No. 1 in terms of health outcomes and Olmsted County ranked No. 1 for health factors.
Social and economic factors showed Douglas County had lower rates of education attainment and higher child poverty rates, higher incidents of income inequality, single-parent households, but lower rates of violent crime.
Clasen said Douglas County incorporates the information into its annual community health assessment, which includes data from other sources.
That information was folded into the county’s plan to improve health – a five-year plan to improve obesity and physical activity; tobacco, alcohol and substance use and abuse; and mental health and disorders.
Progress on the plan has been slow, but steady, Clasen said:
“We’re not going backwards.”