Annual study shows area health rankings slipping

ALPENA – Health rankings for Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties have been slipping for the last three years, according to an annual study conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

But Alpena is ranked 26th out of 82 Michigan counties for a combination of positive health behaviors, as well as clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment, said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy director of the County Health Rankings and Road Maps Program in Madison, Wisc.

The study, in its fifth year, is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Your corner of the state is definitely seeing some challenges,” Willems Van Dijk said Thursday. “But what you are doing in those areas is hopefully leading to improvements that will have an impact on length and quality of life.”

The study issued in late March measures mortality and quality of life in counties nationwide. It’s also available online at countyhealthrankings.org, a website that allows users to check out their own counties. Although Michigan has 83 counties, Keweenaw is not included in the study, because it’s population is too small.

Willems Van Dijk said researchers also factor in high school graduation rates, availability of healthy foods, smoking rates, obesity and teen births to determine the rankings each year.

Also used is data from 2005 to 2012 kept by the National Center for Health Studies, U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Environment Atlas, Map the Meal Gap, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports.

Here are some snapshots of area counties:

Montmorency

The county was ranked 64th in longevity and quality of life and 80th for health factors. Of information available, 31 percent smokers, and 32 percent are obese.

Presque Isle

In 70th place, information available on the county showed16 percent smoke and 33 percent are obese a drop from its 2012 rank of 58.

Alpena

Coming in at 74 for longevity and quality of life, 15 percent of people are in poor to fair health; 22 percent smoke; 33 percent are obese and 21 percent drink excessively. But its health factor rating has been steadily rising from 29th place in 2012.

Alcona

Home to an aging population, this county continues to drift on the bottom, with 13 percent of its population in poor to fair health; 30 percent identified as smokers, 30 percent obese, and 26 percent listed as excessive drinkers. Its ranking for health factors also is down from 47 in 2012 to 69 this year.

The study also revealed these trends nationwide:

* teen birth rates have decreased about 25 percent since 2007.

* smoking rates dropped from 21 percent in 2005 to 18 percent in 2012.

* completion of at least some college increased slightly from 59 percent in 2005 to 64 percent in 2012.

Analysis of the data also discovered new trends:

* almost 1 in 5 households are overcrowded, pose a severe cost burden, or lack adequate facilities to cook, clean, or bathe. These problems are greatest on the East and West coasts, Alaska, and parts of the South.

* more than three-quarters of workers drive to work alone and among them 33 percent drive longer than a half hour each way. Driving contributes to physical inactivity, obesity, and air pollution.

* people in many parts of the country face food insecurity (or the threat of hunger) and limited access to healthy foods, especially in counties in the Southwest, across parts of the South, and the western U.S.

* the availability of mental health providers in the healthiest counties in each state is 1.3 times higher than in the least healthy counties. The west and northeast regions of the country have the best access to mental health providers.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.