By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute recently published its annual county health rankings for all 50 states.
Beaver and Texas counties in Oklahoma were ranked in the top five healthiest in the state.
Beaver County ranked second in Oklahoma behind another area county – Woods – and Texas County was fifth among the 77 counties in Oklahoma.
Meade ranked highest of three Kansas counties in Southwest Kansas, coming in at 42nd among 98 reporting, while Seward came in at 57th. Stevens ranked 87th in Kansas.
The rankings are based on a model of population health that emphasizes the many factors that, if improved, can help make communities healthier places to live, learn, work and play.
Two factors are considered in the study – health outcomes, which include data from mortality and morbidity in the county, and health factors, such as health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.
The health outcomes look at how long people live, how healthy they are and what kind of lives they have.
While the statistics can be somewhat confusing, Seward County Health Department Administrator Martha Brown said she simply hopes people understand that where they live makes a difference in their health.
“It affects our health,” she said. “It’s not a contest we’re having with another state or another county. Somebody doesn’t get a prize. It’s not even a contest we have with ourselves. They’re indicators that are used.”
Brown said the study is meant to be both a tool and an opportunity.
“When we have a group of people that are interested in improving things or a committee, these are things that we know will be beneficial if people spend their time on it,” she said. “If there’s money to be received or applied for to work on a specific thing, we can say ‘That’s something we do need to work on as a community.’”
Brown said the County Health Rankings are not just about health.
“It’s about many things in our community,” she said. “It’s about education. It’s about nutrition. It’s about income level, poverty level. It’s about what our city looks like, how easily people can access the things that we do have. The recreation facilities, the grocery stores, the availability of farmers markets, all of that plays a huge role in the health of people.”
Of course, the study does include topics such as the availability of health care
“It’s just one thing that contributes to that, and I think our community is trying to do an excellent job in improving that in many ways,” Brown said.
All five area counties came in very low in the clinical care portion of the rankings, with the Kansas counties ranked in the bottom five of the state and Texas and Beaver in the bottom 20 in Oklahoma. Clinical care includes categories such as uninsured adults, primary care providers, preventable hospital stays, diabetic screenings and mammography screenings.
Seward ranked 26th in mortality, which includes the category of premature deaths. This is a somewhat misleading stat, however, according to Brown.
“These numbers are huge,” she said. “The premature deaths, they measure how many years of potential life lost before the age of 75 per 100,000 per population. We don’t have 100,000 population to begin with.”
Texas and Beaver counties did particularly well in the health factors categories, with Texas coming in second and Beaver in fourth. Meade came in 27th in Kansas, and Stevens ranked 51st.
Morbidity statistics contain data on how people perceive their health and low birthweights.
“Low birth weight is anyting 5.5 pounds,” Brown said. “Anything below that is considered low birth weight. We have a low percentage of low birth weight babies, meaning we have a good percentage of higher birth weight babies. That contributes to some of our higher numbers in that health outcomes category.”
The County Health Rankings showed Seward had less than 6 percent of its babies coming in at low birth weight.
“I’m just real proud of this low birth weight,” Brown said. “That’s wonderful. That’s certainly not anything I’ve done. I think our prenatal program has contributed to that as well as lots of good OB care in our community – that says a lot.”
Brown said all of the numbers in the study are less indicative of smaller communities than they are larger population. She added the data runs from 2007 to 2009.
“Anything that’s statistical is always in the past,” she said. “You don’t have real current numbers.”
Brown said while she encourages everyone to look at the numbers, which are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org, she does want people to keep in mind that the rankings are not a contest.
“It’s done, and these things are performed in order to benefit us,” she said. “We have quite a few programs right here at the health department that address several of these things.”
Brown emphasized when information is based on bigger populations, they are a clearer picture of those types of communities.
“If you’re tying that down for a smaller population, it’s just tiny numbers,” she said. “It just doesn’t give a real clear picture of everything. Some of the percentages, overall, are fairly accurate, but the ones that they use that they base on those large groups of people, I don’t know how they could.”
Brown said all communities need to work together to bring better results.
“That’s what’s going to improve our health,” she said. “It’s not just doctors’ offices. It’s not just the hospital. It’s not just the school. It all affects our health. We all just need to continue to work together to provide a good outcome.”