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County ranks just outside Texas’ top 20 percent

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation this week released its annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps – a compilation of health data from various sources that ranks counties all over the U.S. in a variety of categories.

In overall “health outcomes” Wise County ranked 54th out of the 232 Texas counties that got a ranking.

That’s close to the top 20 percent, but a deeper dive into the statistics reveals some areas where the county could certainly use a little work.

Areas looked at include mortality, morbidity, health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and the physical environment.

Wise County beat its overall ranking in a few areas, most notably morbidity – how healthy people feel – where it ranked 35th, and social and economic factors like education and income levels, social support and the crime rate. The county ranked 37th there.

But in other areas Wise County ranked well below that overall score.

In mortality – measured by the years of potential life lost before the age of 75 – Wise County ranked 82nd, exceeding both the Texas and national benchmarks.

In the availability of clinical care, the county ranked 120th. Areas looked at included the number of uninsured, the number of primary care physicians and dentists per 1,000 population, and things like diabetic and breast cancer screening.

And in health behaviors – smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, sexually transmitted diseases and the teen birth rate – the county’s ranking plummetted to 188th, into the bottom 20 percent.

The statistics also support the view that Wise County is a dangerous place to drive. The motor vehicle crash death rate of 34 per 100,000 population is more than twice that of the rest of the state – 15 – and more than three times the national benchmark rate of 10.

Wise County actually sits in one of the top areas in Texas for good health. Williamson County, north of Austin, ranked number one, but Collin County was second and Denton County was third. Parker County was 30th and Tarrant County was 37th of the 232 ranked counties.

The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. It is designed to help communities create solutions that make it easier for people to be healthy in their own communities, focusing on specific factors like education and income.

Health Rankings

A few statistics stood out:

  • Dying young: Per 100,000 population, Wise County residents lost 7,486 years of potential life before the age of 75 compared to 6,928 for the rest of Texas. The national benchmark (the 90th percentile) is 5,317.
  • Feeling good: Only 16 percent of Wise residents reported themselves to be in poor or fair health, compared to 18 percent statewide. The national benchmark is 10 percent.
  • Born big: Wise County beat the state on low birth weight as well, with only 6.9 percent compared to the state average of 8.4 percent. National benchmark is 6 percent.
  • Still smoking: 18 percent of Wise County adults are smokers, matching the state but falling short of the 13 percent national benchmark.
  • Living large: 32 percent of Wise County adults are overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater.
  • Sitting around: 30 percent report no leisure time physical activity, compared to only 25 percent statewide. The national benchmark is 21 percent.
  • Healthy habits: The county ranks well below the rest of Texas in sexually transmitted infections, with 183 per 100,000 to the state’s 476. But the national benchmark of 92 is still fairly distant.
  • Teen moms: In teenage pregnancy, mothers between the ages of 15 and 19, Wise County has 49 per 1,000 population compared to 60 statewide. The national benchmark is 21.
  • Graduating: 95 percent of county residents have a high school diploma – better than the state’s 86 percent – but only half have some college. That’s below the state’s 57 percent and well below the U.S. benchmark of 70 percent.
  • Poor kids: 17 percent of the county’s children live in poverty compared to 27 percent of children in Texas. The national benchmark is 14 percent.
  • Don’t drink the water: 20 percent of the county’s population was exposed to water that exceeded a violation limit in the past year. That’s more than three times the state average of 6 percent. The national benchmark is zero.
  • Grab a bite: 46 percent of the restaurants in the county are considered “fast-food” restaurants. That’s less than the state number of 52 percent, but not as healthy as the national benchmark of 27 percent.

Counties in each of the 50 states are ranked according to summaries of a variety of health measures. Those having high ranks, e.g. 1 or 2, are considered to be the “healthiest.” Counties are ranked relative to the health of other counties in the same state.

The major goal of the rankings is to raise awareness about the many factors that influence health and that health varies from place to place – not to produce a list of the healthiest 10 or 20 counties in the nation and only focus on that.

The County Health Rankings team synthesizes health information from a variety of national data sources to create the Rankings. Most of the data used are public data available at no charge. Measures based on vital statistics, sexually transmitted infections, and Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey data were calculated for us by staff at the National Center for Health Statistics and other units of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Measures of health care quality were calculated by staff at The Dartmouth Institute.

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