Douglas County among top five healthiest in Kansas

Mark Fenton, a walking advocate and host of the PBS show “America’s Walking,” asks students from New York School to raise their hands if they ride their bicycle to school. On Oct. 6, 2009, Fenton and Lawrence leaders walked around the New York School neighborhood to see how safe the sidewalks and streets were for bicyclists and pedestrians. They got an earful from the students and quickly learned there were areas that needed improvement.

Douglas County is the fourth healthiest county in Kansas, according to a new report released today.

Here’s the top five:

  1. Mitchell.
  2. Riley.
  3. Johnson.
  4. Douglas.
  5. Nemaha.

The five least healthy counties are Cherokee, Wyandotte, Harper, Bourbon and Montgomery.

The report “County Health Rankings: Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health” was done by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

It is the first report to rank the overall health of the counties in all 50 states by using a standard formula to measure how healthy people are and how long they live.

Here’s how Douglas County fared:

No. 3 for mortality. It looks at years of potential life lost.

No. 36 for morbidity. It is based on quality of life and birth outcomes.

No. 4 for health behaviors. This includes obesity, smoking and chlamydia rates.

No. 20 for clinical care. This includes uninsured adults, preventable hospital stays and diabetic screenings, among other things.

No. 14 for social and economic factors. This includes high school graduation rates, number of single-parent households and violent crime.

No. 4 for physical environment. This includes air quality and access to healthy foods.

• No. 2 for health factors. This involves health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment.

Despite the high marks, Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department leaders say there’s room for improvement.

Charlotte Marthaler

“We must be doing something right, so we want to keep doing that. But we want to also figure out what we can do better,” said Charlotte Marthaler, director of policy and planning. She said, for example, the morbidity and clinical care rankings raised concerns.

But, more importantly, Marthaler and a Kansas health leader said the report emphasizes that where we live matters to our health.

“Health has a lot more to do than just health care and what happens in a physician’s office or a medical provider’s office,” Marthaler said. “It is much more involved than that.”

Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino, senior fellow at the Kansas Health Institute, added, “Health is more than just the presence of disease or death. It is determined in large part by a series of partners who are linked to our personal behavioral choices and to how our environment influences those choices and our health more directly.”

He thinks there should be a health impact statement for every local and state policy that is discussed — not just the usual financial impact statement.

“I can guarantee you that all of the things that are discussed and debated and the decisions that are made affect our health,” Pezzino said.”

The full report can be found online at