Leavenworth County residents are less healthy now than a year ago when measured against their peers in the state, according to findings released this week from the Kansas Health Institute.
The KHI analyzed the results of the fourth annual County Health Rankings released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The research indicates that Leavenworth County slipped 21 spots over the last year, from 22nd of the 102 measured in the state in 2012 to 43rd this year. Johnson County was ranked the most healthful of the counties measured, while Woodson County in southeast Kansas was cited as having the poorest health. According to Sarah Hurd, an analyst at the KHI, it is not uncommon for counties to slip 15 or more spots in the rankings over the span of a year. But most of those counties that fluctuate in that way have smaller populations.
“It actually was notable to us that Leavenworth County moved so much,” she said.
One statistic in particular here, Hurd said, stuck out to analysts at the KHI.
“There was an increase in premature deaths,” from 2012 to 2013, she said.
The report took into account a number of factors in making the rankings, including the number of babies born with low birth weight, percentage of uninsured residents and even high-school graduation rates. According to Tatiana Lin, a senior analyst and strategy team leader for the KHI, that's because an individual's physical health can be affected by a host of factors, including socioeconomic status.
“The content of the report is to show that all of those factors are very important,” she said.
But the rankings are essentially broken down into two categories, Hurd said ― mortality, or rates of death, and morbidity, or rates of disease.
Rates of adult smoking, obesity, physical inactivity and excessive drinking were slightly higher here than the whole of Kansas, on average. The ratio of patients to primary care physicians and dentists, too, were higher, meaning there are fewer doctors per capita.
But Lin said the ranking is not an end in itself. The next step is to encourage local policy makers and officials to begin fostering partnerships to address some of the concerns detailed in the report. That includes health departments and governing bodies. She pointed to Wyandotte County, which has been consistently rated among the counties in poorest health but has in recent years taken steps through its Healthy Communities Wyandotte initiative to reverse course.
“Rank is definitely a starter for action,” she said.