Healthy but room for improvement

Healthy but room for improvement

BLOOMINGTON — A respected, annual report that ranks the health of residents by county shows that Central Illinois counties are healthy overall but there’s room for improvement.

“I see it as an opportunity,” said Camille Rodriguez, director of the McLean County Health Department. “It’s not all where we want it to be. But, in other areas, we have reasons to be proud.”

Pantagraph area counties ranked in the top 20 were Piatt, 11th; Woodford, 12th; and Tazewell, 20th.

While Livingston County dropped from 48th to 54th, Erin Fogarty, health education and marketing director for the Livingston County Health Department, said “Over time, our rankings have improved.”

Logan County improved from 65th to 64th place. “I’m glad we moved up a spot and, hopefully, it’ll continue to get better,” said Kara Davis, director of nursing and assistant administrator of the Logan County Department of Public Health.

The rankings are a measure of how counties are doing on more than 30 factors, including rates of premature death, percentage of people who identify themselves as being in poor physical and mental health, percentage of low birth weight babies, smoking and obesity rates, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, access to health care and unemployment and education levels.

Representatives of several Central Illinois health departments said they use  the data in their planning, including in their Community Health Needs Assessments.

McLean County fared slightly worse than the state averages in adult obesity rate (29 percent), people who report being physically inactive, access to exercise opportunities, excessive drinking, alcohol-impaired driving deaths and ratios of patients to primary care physicians and dentists.

“When I see rankings that concern me, I think ‘What can we, as community members, do to address it?'” Rodriguez said.

Programs to combat obesity are a part of the Community Health Improvement Plan, she said.

McLean County fared better in areas such as the adult smoking rate (15 percent), diabetes monitoring, mammography screening, education levels, percentage of children in poverty and unemployment.

Livingston County fared worse than state averages for obesity (31 percent), physical inactivity, access to exercise opportunities, access to health care providers and education.

“We live in a very rural county,” Fogarty said. “Offering (fitness) classes and attracting health care providers can be more difficult.”

But the county fared better in areas including rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and mammography screening.

“We have tried to be proactive with STI testing and the efforts are reflective in the data,” Fogarty said.

More people in Logan County (78 percent) drive alone to work compared with the state average (73 percent) but Davis attributed that to Logan being a rural county where few people live in the town where they work.

Piatt, which ranked 11th, and DeWitt, which ranked 77th, varied widely because of their divergent socioeconomic factors, said David Remmert, administrator for the DeWitt-Piatt Bi-County Health Department.

Remmert said he’s interested in how medical, school and mental health services can be integrated.

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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