Clatsop County has moved up in the rankings of a nationwide survey of health indicators released earlier this week.
The study, a joint project of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, compiled data on lifespan, health care access, smoking and obesity rates and other factors for every county across the United States, and ranked the counties within each state.
Clatsop County earned an overall ranking of 11th out of the 33 Oregon counties listed in the study (Gillam, Sherman and Wheeler counties were not included) in health outcomes, which measured deaths before age 75, low birthweight infants and percentage of residents who report poor physical and mental health. That compares with a ranking of 19th in the first 2010 study and 17th in last year’s survey.
To Margo Lalich, Clatsop County Public Health Department director, the Wisconsin survey is simply one of many sources of data her office uses to gauge the community’s well-being and prioritize health initiatives.
“We have all the silo data – when we put it together, we begin to see what impacts what, and what story it’s trying to tell us,” she said.
While its health outcomes score improved, Clatsop County’s ranking dipped two places, to 17th, for health factors, which measure behaviors such as smoking and drinking as well as access to health care, poverty and education levels.
“What this tells us is that in spite of the risk factors, the initiatives and interventions we are adopting locally are having a positive impact on health outcomes,” Lalich said.
According to the survey, 22 percent of county residents smoke versus 18 percent statewide, but the local obesity rate matched the state average of 26 percent, and excessive drinking was slightly less than the state’s 16 percent. The local rate of uninsured residents totals 21 percent of the population, versus 19 percent for Oregon, while the rate of preventable hospital stays is 36 percent higher than the statewide average.
The complete survey can be viewed at www.countyhealthrankings.org.
Local demographics can influence health statistics – Clatsop County’s rural setting, older-than-average population and reliance on service-industry jobs all impact health outcomes – but a key focus of the Public Health Department is determining how these widely varying factors affect citizens’ health.
“We can’t just look at whether you have a doctor to go to – we need to consider all the determinants of health: individual lifestyle factors, social and community networks, living and working conditions as well as socio-economic, cultural and ecological conditions,” Lalich said. “Understanding what the social and cultural norms are of a community is critical when developing initiatives to decrease risk and improve outcomes.”
The county is conducting a Comprehensive Community Health Assessment due to be completed later this month. Sponsored by the county Commission on Children and Families and undertaken in partnership with the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences, the study will provide even more detailed data than the Wisconsin study, and further illuminate how various risk factors impact health.
Public Health has received additional resources to support some of its traditional services, including a $10,000 state grant for a breast-feeding promotional campaign.
“We are collaborating more with other organizations,” said Steven Blakesley, Clatsop County Health Promotion Specialist. “We have a very active Community Health Action Response Team comprised of community leaders and volunteers from many different organizations. Our focus areas are chronic disease self-management, food insecurities, increasing physical activities and worksite wellness.”
Clatsop County itself has an employee-driven wellness program, funded by its health insurance carrier, which promotes healthy habits. Subsidized pool passes, a Weight Watchers program, fitness walk contests – even an initiative to promote healthy break-room snacks – have all been launched, and the county is promoting the idea to other local entities.
Released by:Tom Bennett
Community Relations Coordinator