Healthy community

4/10/2012

How healthy is the county you live in? Having such knowledge strikes us as vitally important for long-range planning for health officials and public policy makers alike.

Fortunately, a cooperative venture between the Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has resulted in a formulaic approach to measuring most every county in the country. The project examines not only health outcomes but critical factors that contribute to a healthy community.

Coinciding with last week's National Public Health Week, the latest rankings show Ellis County is the fourth healthiest county in Kansas. And we're improving, moving from No. 7 in 2010 and No. 5 last year. Riley County is tops, but Ellis County is not far behind.

In the health outcomes portion, the survey measures both mortality and morbidity. Mortality is an indicator of how long people live by examining how many years before age 75 that people die. Ellis County's number is steadily improving, is slightly better than the national average, and is dramatically better than the state average.

Morbidity looks at how healthy people feel while alive. All four measured factors are improving, with only 8 percent of the population currently in poor or fair health, an average of 2.4 physically unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days, 1.8 mental health days, and 6.9 percent of babies born with low birthweight.

Most of the health factors ranked in the survey have Ellis County faring well. Being a university town naturally results in higher scores for the social and economic portion; in fact, we're No. 2 overall. On the flip side, the number of children living in poverty, while lower than the state average, is increasing slightly. Having 13 percent of our kids in such a reality certainly is something to which we should pay close attention.

Adult obesity appears to be on the rise as well locally. No less than 31 percent of Ellis County adults fit this description, and it's on the rise. It's higher than both the state and national average.

On other number on the report garners our attention -- the number of primary care physicians. While the U.S. average is one per 631 people and Kansas' is 1:857, Ellis County has only one primary care physician for every 1,308 residents. Any newcomer to the area who has trouble obtaining a family doctor already is well aware of this fact.

There is no doubt Ellis County is improving, although some of the numbers could be more a matter of changing variables being measured. For instance, in 2010 the physical environment category included liquor store density. This year, the number of fast-food restaurants is looked at. Under social and economic factors, college graduates used to be counted. Now, it's "some college." And while homicide rates were looked at two years ago, now it's violent crime rates. In clinical care, hospice use has been replaced by mammography testing. And in health behaviors, binge drinking was eschewed in favor of excessive drinking.

Still, this is a good news report worth bragging about. The overall high ranking should make us feel good about ourselves, both in terms of access to quality health care and the fact we're paying attention to our bodies.

We would encourage this information be utilized in all the marketing material used to promote Ellis County. Already, we can boast of a strong local economy, a recognized regional hub, an education and medical center for northwest Kansas, and a revitalized downtown. Add in a generally healthy public body, and the attractiveness of locating a home or business here should increase.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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