Even as Berrien and Cass County's overall health outcomes slowly improve compared to others across the state, the overall health factors that help frame those outcomes continue to falter in comparison to others in the state in recent years.
That's a very quick snapshot takeaway from the 2019 County Health Rankings across America released this week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Every year County Health Rankings are produced in the spring of the year to help individual counties all across the nation to understand what influences how healthy residents are, and as a result how long they will live.
Berrien County is currently ranked 59th in Health Outcomes out of the 83 counties in Michigan, an improvement over their 64th ranking a year ago and 66th rating in 2016. (2017 and 2018 were steady at 64th.) In Cass County, Health Outcomes moved up from 46th a year ago to 42nd in the state, right in the middle of the pack. In 2017, however, Cass ranked 36th, a position they maintained from 2016 as well.
When it comes to Overall Health Factors, however, Berrien slipped to 67th this year from 66th a year ago, 69th in 2017 and 57th three years ago. Cass slipped from 34th a year ago to 40th this year, but that's better than both 2017 when they were rated 41st and 2016 when they clocked in at 46th.
Overall Health Factors that roll into the equation include such things as:
- Health Behaviors like smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, and the like
- Clinical Care, including the rate of uninsured, ratio of primary care physicians and such
- Social & Economic Factors, like graduation rates, unemployment rates, children in poverty and crime
- Physical Environment including pollution factors, severe housing problems, and driving to work alone
Van Buren County slipped in Overall Health Outcomes from 49th to 61st, a position they held in 2017 as well, while the Overall Health Factors in Van Buren improved from a 67 rank last year to 60th in the state this year. Three years ago Van Buren's Health Factors left them at 74th in the state.
Overall Health Outcomes are based on such measures as:
- Premature death...
- The percentage of adults reporting fair or poor health...
- The average number of physically unhealthy days reported in past 30 days...
- The average number of mentally unhealthy days reported in past 30 days...
- The percentage of live births with low birthweight (< 2500 grams) in each county...
Health care practitioners tell us that the annual rankings provide a revealing snapshot of how health is influenced by where we live, learn, work and play as well as how we behave as citizens and in the care of our personal health issues.
In contrast to the Tri-County area, things improve rather dramatically as you move up the Lake Michigan shoreline. Allegan County ranks 15th in Overall Health Outcomes and 17th in Health Factors while Ottawa County, one county north, rates 2nd in the state for Outcomes and 3rd for Health Factors.
Allegan County Health Officer Angelique Joynes says Social and Economic Factors have the biggest impact on health factors at 40-percent of the measure. Social determinants of health fall in that category including things like housing, transportation, education and so on. Joynes says, "Factors such as lack of adequate transportation and housing do impact a person's health and well-being." She adds, "When a person does not have basic needs being met, it is much harder for them to focus on getting medical needs met or focusing on healthier behavior choices."
Local officials would likely concur that those issues certainly come into play in Berrien County where major research is underway to help solve the problem of a severe lack of transportation, and many face housing affordability issues, and access to fresh and healthy foods to nourish their bodies.
The new rankings call attention to differences in opportunity that make it hard for everyone to be as healthy as possible when there isn't a level playing field in some of those key factors driven by one's environment.
For comparison purposed, Kent County -- home to Grand Rapids -- is ranked 12th in the state for Health Outcomes, same as a year earlier, and 13th in Health Factors, also the same rank as a year ago. For Kalamazoo County, a slip to 30th in Health Outcomes from 26th a year ago, matches the four place fall-off in Health Factors there where they dropped from 14th in the state a year ago to 18th in this year's measures.
You can see the full report and search by both state and county as well as by year and other factors when you click the link below:
To see the executive summary of the 2019 Michigan breakout, click the link below: