Building healthy communities

Mecosta County ranked 20th healthiest county in Michigan

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Lake County is the second unhealthiest county in the state, second only to Wayne County, according to certain measures on the 2013 County Health Rankings study. Overall, Lake County ranked 68 out of 82 in terms of overall health. Mecosta and Osceola counties ranked higher at 20 and 29, respectively. The County Health Rankings are provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. This is the fifth year the rankings have been available. Each county receives two main rankings: Health Outcomes and Health Factors. Health Outcomes illustrate the current health of the community and include additional factors on how long we live (mortality) and how well we live (morbidity). Health Factors focus on future health of the community and include information on health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment. “It is important to remember that the County Health Rankings represent a snap shot of the community and are one of the many pieces of information which need to be considered when looking at the overall health of the community,” Kevin Hughes, Deputy Health Officer of District Health Department No. 10, wrote in a press release. “A county’s health ranking should serve as an entry point into the conversation about what is happening rather than an end point. Also, making year-to-year comparisons may not be appropriate as the individual measures or the process used to gather the data has changed.”
Osceola County ranked 29 in Health Outcomes, which is a gain of five since last year. In the Health Factor category, it ranked 43 this year, compared to 55 in 2013. Since 2010, the county’s rank has shown a gain of 16. The CMDHD attributes some of the increase to the Together We Can initiative, that is an effort to improve the overall health of the more than 196,000 people within the district and encourage healthy lifestyles in the community. “This is an immense success for the Osceola County Health Improvement work group and it is a tremendous improvement,” said CMDHD Health Officer Steve Hall. “This process has empowered community members to come together with the common goal of improving the health of their community.” Through the availability of healthy programs, farmers markets, exercise opportunities and other healthy initiatives, the county’s ranking will continue to improve, Hall added. According to the report, 12 percent of Osceola County residents considered themselves to be of poor or fair health. In Health Factors, adult obesity rates were two points higher than the state average of 32 percent and 29 percent of residents report to be physically inactive. Ninety percent of residents have been screened for diabetes, while 74 percent have had mammogram screenings. The rankings also state 15 percent of Osceola County residents are uninsured, just over 10 percent of residents are unemployed. Thirty-three percent of children live in poverty, which is higher than the state average of 25 percent. The teen birth rate in Osceola County is 34 out of every 1,000 county teens, compared to Mecosta County’s 21 and Lake County’s 53. The state average is 32. MECOSTA COUNTY In the 2014 report, Mecosta County ranked 20 in Health Outcomes and received a Health Factors score of 51. Both ranking were improvements from 2013, where Mecosta County was ranked 21 in Health Outcomes and 63 in Health Factors. Tom Hogenson, public relations manager and foundation director at Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital, said data from reports like this one can be useful in a number of ways, including health policy planning. “These can show us the health needs in community,” he said. “Any hospital that receives public funding has an obligation to assess the health needs in the community they are located in and this kind of information can be helpful in that.” In the Health Factors category, the percentages of adults reporting obesity, physical inactivity and overall poor or fair health had all dropped slightly from 2013. In 2014, the obesity rate in Mecosta County was 31 percent, dropping one percent from the 2013 report and staying below this year’s state average of 32 percent. Twenty-five percent of residents reported being physically inactive in Mecosta County while 24 percent reported the same across the state. The report showed there were 49 cases of preventable hospitalizations in Mecosta County, lower than the state average of 70. The county performed exceptionally well with diabetes screening, with 93 percent reporting compared to the 85 percent average throughout Michigan. “Preventable hospitalization and diabetic screenings are areas the county performed well in, but obesity is something maybe there is more we can do in our community,” Hogenson said. The report showed an unemployment rate of 9.3 percent compared to the state average of 9.1 percent. The county has 28 percent of its children living in poverty, while the average in Michigan is 25 percent. Understanding the relationship between people in poverty and obesity is important, Hogenson said. It’s a relatively high unemployment rate which can relate, to some extent, to people living in poverty and having poorer health and less access to medical care, he said. Hogenson said the ranking is pretty good and he is pleased overall, despite some areas with room for improvement. “It looks as though we have some pretty good health outcomes, but also some things that are of concern,” he said. “There are some things people can correct easily and lower the percentage, such as alcohol consumption, smoking and obesity, but those are more individual choices by and large and we can only do so much.” LAKE COUNTY Lake County earned its poor score in the Health Factors category, where it was ranked 81 out of 82. In that category, socio-economic factors account for 40 percent of the score, said Hughes. Unemployment in the county is high at 12.2 percent, compared with the state’s average of 9.1 percent. Fifty-three percent of Lake County children live in poverty, more than double the state average of 25 percent. Forty-one percent of children live in single-parent households in Lake County, slightly above the state average of 31 percent. According to the report, 32 percent of Lake County residents are obese, which is on par with the state average, but above the country’s best-performing counties, which have a combined average of 25 percent. Lake County’s food environment index — measured by residents’ access to healthy food and their feelings of food insecurity — scored 7, while the rest of the state scored 7.5. Counties that received a 9, the highest marks on the index, include Barry, Benzie and Leelenau counties. Lake County outpaces the state in access to exercise opportunities. While 78 percent of Michigan residents have adequate access to exercise opportunities, 95 percent of Lake County residents have access. Still, the county’s physical inactivity percentage is close with the state average, each reported at 23 percent and 24 percent, respectively. The county and the state report the same obesity rate of 32 percent. Eighteen percent of Lake County residents are without health insurance, while 14 percent of Michigan residents report the same. In the Health Outcomes category, Lake County fared better, earning a ranking of 68 out of 82. Some measures of quality of life factors — such as number of poor health or mental health days — were unreported in Lake County. However, residents reported experiencing 6.7 poor physical health days out of 30, while Michiganders reported 3.6. The health department is partnering with Spectrum Health, Memorial Hospital in Ludington and Michigan State University Extension to address some of the food and exercise needs in Lake County, Hughes said. For example, MSU Extension’s Cooking Matters course has been popular among Lake County residents. The six-week course invites people to learn to cook a healthy, cost-effective meal. At the end of each class, participants are given a bag of groceries full of the ingredients needed to make that meal at home. The group also is working to secure funding to rehab the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail between Reed City and Baldwin, Hughes said. “You have those things available to people, but then you have to get them to utilize them,” he said. “We’re not going to see significant changes overnight, it’s going to take a while. It’s fair to say no single person or single entity will solve the problems in Lake County. It’s going to take a collective effort among community members and these organizations.”