Health is a term often used when we refer to our state of well being or lack of disease. Individual health is something that can be assessed and addressed with a personal health care provider. But what about assessing the health of a community? This presents a challenge because it can be hard to define health and even harder to measure it. The University of Wisconsin Health Institute has attempted to measure the health of the population by ranking states and counties on their health. Our local results are not good. There is plenty of room for improvement based on the reports that have been submitted.
First of all, in order to discuss the rankings it is helpful to know what is being measured to determine health. The rankings measure two categories. One category focuses on health outcomes and the other focuses on health factors.
The health outcomes category measures life longevity which is the length of life for residents of the county. This accounts for 50% of the measure. The other 50% of the measure is based on self-reported health questions and is more subjective.
The health factors category assesses certain factors that have been shown to have an impact on health. These factors include four groupings. The first is behaviors that affect health and is 30% of the score. These behaviors include smoking rates, alcohol and drug use, diet and exercise, and unhealthy sexual activity. The second is clinical care which accounts for 20% and includes access to care locally and quality of care. The third is social and economic factors and this accounts for 40%. These factors include income levels, employment, education, community safety, and family and social support. The last grouping, that accounts for 10% of the health factors category, is physical environment. This is broken into air and water quality and housing and transit.
These measures are being done across the country. So how do we compare? Wisconsin is above average and ranks 20th in the country. However the counties in our area do poorly when compared to the rest of the state.
For health outcomes the counties of Green Lake, Waushara, and Marquette rank 63, 51, and 69 respectively out of a total of 72 counties. In the health factors measures, Green Lake, Waushara, and Marquette rank 38, 57, and 65. Fond du Lac and Winnebago rank a little better with outcomes ranks of 32 and 39 and health factors ranks of 18 and 17.
These rankings tell us that there are opportunities for improvement. This can be done by educating people about factors that increase risk such as smoking, inactivity, obesity, and excessive alcohol use. Also, access to quality healthcare can be improved. The limitations of access to care may be a lack of providers and services but it also may be a lack of insurance so the services are not being sought. Educating young people through effective schools is also critical since studies show that the higher the level of education the lower the rate of health risk factors. Involvement in community events that promote healthy activities also improves the health of the population.
Health care providers mainly focus their time and effort on individual patients. Improving the health of the community requires involvement by not only health care providers, but also teachers, parents, community leaders, and individuals committed to promoting better health. Stay healthy my friends.
By: P. Michael Shattuck, M.D. – Community Health Network Family Physician