UW Sunday Column – County Health Rankings Released

John KelkerTwo weeks ago, the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, released its annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. The County Health Rankings show us where we live matters to our health and provides counties with an annual check-up of their health. The rankings provide local-level data that measures each county based on 30 factors including health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment.

The report ranked Sangamon County as 69th in overall health outcomes among 102 counties in Illinois. Although Sangamon County ranked in the lower half of counties in overall Health Outcomes, this year’s report marks the best ranking Sangamon County has received in the past four years. In addition, it showed that the capitol area is uniquely positioned for long-term improvement in terms of community health.

Many people assume that health rankings are a reflection of the quality or accessibility of health care services in a given area. However, Sangamon County’s overall rank has been boosted by the quality of local health care services. In fact, Sangamon County ranks first among all counties for clinical care services based upon a low uninsured rate, high number of providers per capita, and percentage of the population being screened for certain health conditions.
Unfortunately, Sangamon County’s strength in clinical services is offset by lower rankings in the category of Health Behaviors. Sangamon County ranked 66th statewide in Health Behaviors which included factors such as smoking, obesity, food insecurity, physical activity, drug and alcohol abuse, and teen births.
Measurements of Social & Economic Factors also contributed to a lower overall ranking. Sangamon County ranks 59 out of 102 counties statewide based on factors such as education, employment, income, and crime.

In determining overall rankings, social & economic factors account for 40% of the overall score. This highlights the important link between health, education and financial stability. More schooling, for example, is linked to higher incomes, better employment options, and increased social supports that, together, support opportunities for healthier choices.

Studies such as the County Health Rankings demonstrate how positive community change requires a holistic approach. An approach that seeks improvement across all areas of our community – An approach that gets us all working together, in partnership, towards a common good.

Today, United Way is one of many community organizations working together to improve our community. We understand the relationship between health, education and financial stability; which we refer to as the building blocks for a good quality of life. Education is essential to getting and keeping a job with a living wage and health benefits. An income adequate to pay for today’s necessities and save for the future provides families some sense of financial stability. Access to quality health care keeps children on track in school and adults productive at work. Remove any of these building blocks and the other two topple.

We invite you to visit www.countyhealthrankings.org to view this year’s report.

John Kelker is the President at United Way of Central Illinois. Learn more about United Way at www.springfieldunitedway.org. Look for United Way columns weekly in Our Towns.