OPINION COLUMNS

Wise sees mixed results in health rankings

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, April 5, 2017
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Last week the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released their annual County Health Rankings, which takes a look at the state of health in counties across the country.

Overall, Wise County did pretty well compared to other Texas counties. We ranked 42 out of 243 counties in Texas in overall health outcomes. That’s in the top 20 percent.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

Part of the health outcomes data includes quality of life, and that is where Wise County really shined. It was ranked 17 out of 243 counties.

Wise County residents reported fewer poor or fair health days and poor physical health days than the state average and was virtually the same as the state average in poor mental health days. Wise County also had a lower percentage of low birthweight than the state average.

But some numbers under this category that weren’t used in factoring the overall rating weren’t so positive. Wise County was higher than the state average in premature age-adjusted mortality and child mortality.

The category where Wise County ranked the lowest was in physical environment. We ranked 132 out of 243 in that category.

Air pollution was one area that stood out.

Air pollution is measured by the average daily density of fine particulate matter in micrograms per cubic meter (PM2.5) Wise County was at 9.9 compared to 8.0 for the state.

Also, the study showed that Wise County residents are more likely than the state average to drive alone to work. And for those who do drive alone to work, nearly half of those commuters (48 percent) spend more than 30 minutes driving to work, among the highest percentage in the state.

The study, which includes way more data than I can include in this column, also serves as a way to identify areas that might need to be addressed.

For instance, while Wise County was fairly close to the state average in the ratio of population to primary care physicians, that number was nearly double the state average for dentists and more than six times higher than the state’s average ratio of population to mental health providers.

The study also showed that Wise County was strongly lacking in the percentage of the population with adequate access to locations for physical activity, such as parks or recreational facilities. The state average is 84 percent, but Wise County is only 39 percent.

Personally, I’d love to see more recreational opportunities in the county. Living in Decatur, I’ve often been frustrated when trying to take my kids to the park during certain youth sports seasons where the facilities and parking lots are all packed.

Check out the full results yourself and see how other counties ranked by visiting countyhealthrankings.org.

Brian Knox is the Messenger’s special projects manager.

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