Douglas County ranked 52nd out of 72 Wisconsin counties for health outcomes and 56th for health factors, according to the seventh annual County Health Rankings, released this month by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The rankings are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org.
“While our rankings in length and quality of life have improved slightly, there are opportunities for positive change in choices we make that influence health,” said Kathy Ronchi, Douglas County health officer.
According to the 2017 Rankings, the five healthiest counties in Wisconsin, starting with most healthy, are Ozaukee, Kewaunee, St. Croix, Taylor and Washington. The five counties in the poorest health, starting with least healthy, are Menominee, Milwaukee, Sawyer, Adams and Washburn.
The rankings, which compare counties within states, show that where you live influences how well and how long you live. The local level data makes it clear that good health is influenced by many factors beyond medical care including housing, education, jobs, access to healthy foods and more.
This year the rankings took a closer look at premature deaths — or deaths that occur among people under age 75. Exploring Wisconsin’s premature death trends from 1997 to 2014, the rankings found 39 counties have seen improvements in premature death rates, while five have seen worsening rates and the rest saw no change.
The Rankings Key Findings Report revealed that drug overdose deaths are fueling a dramatic increase in premature deaths nationally because of an increase in deaths among 15 to 44 year olds. From 2014 to 2015, 85 percent of the increase in premature deaths can be attributed to a swift increase in deaths among these younger populations. The report found that while myriad issues contributed to the rise, the drug overdose epidemic is the leading cause of death among 25- to 44-year olds and is a clear driver of this trend. Drug deaths are also accelerating among 15- to 24- year olds, but nearly three times as many people in this age
This year’s Rankings also introduce a new measure focused on young people, those 16 to 24, who are not in school or working. About 4.9 million young people in the U.S. — 1 out of 8 — fall into this category. Rates of youth disconnection are higher in rural counties (21.6 percent), particularly those in the South and West, than in urban ones (13.7 percent).
“Young adults who are not in school or working represent untapped potential in our communities and our nation that we can’t afford to waste,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, PhD, RN, director of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. “Communities addressing issues such as poverty, unemployment, and education can make a difference creating opportunities for all youth and young adults. The County Health Rankings are an important springboard for conversations on how to do just that.”
The Rankings have become an important tool for communities that want to improve health for all. The 2016 Community Health Survey revealed Douglas County residents are concerned most about alcohol and drug abuse, physical activity and unhealthy behaviors such as overeating and smoking and their negative influence on health. Data from the County Rankings indicates Douglas County has rates higher than the state average in each of these indicators. This information will be used for targeting strategies in Public Health’s community health improvement planning process.