Wood County ranks ninth on list of healthiest Ohio counties

Agreen and Agreen

According to the County Health Rankings released on Feb. 17, Wood County ranked the ninth healthiest out of Ohio’s 88 counties.

The study was part of the Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health Project (MATCH) between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The project ranks counties based on two areas.

The first is the health outcomes of a population, which measure the length and quality of life. The second are health factors, which look at environment and behaviors.

“We have a higher than average high school graduation rate and post-high school education level, and when people have more opportunities for higher education, they make better health choices,” said Pat Snyder, public health technologies specialist at the Wood County Health Department.

All of the information collected and the rankings are on the County Health Rankings Web site.

According to the Web site, there were 5,975 premature deaths in Wood County, which is about 1,600 fewer than average in Ohio.

Wood County ranked high for health behaviors.

Only 9 percent of adults in Wood County smoke, while 24 percent smoke in Ohio.

In Wood County, 11 percent binge drink while statewide, 16 percent binge drink.

The teen birth rate for Wood County is 18 births per 1,000 teen girls, compared to 41 state-wide.

The factors for clinical care were about the same for Wood County and Ohio.

In Wood County, 87 percent of high school freshmen graduate and 30 percent of the population over 25 years old have a 4-year college degree.

There are 10 percent of children living in poverty in Wood County, compared to 18 percent state-wide.

“We have a poverty level which is lower than average and that has an impact on health. It affects what they can do and what they can change,” Snyder said.

Wood County ranked 72 out of 88 counties for physical environment factors.

Snyder said this is because the information about the ozone levels used to rank the counties was from 2005.

“A challenge for the project was to find uniform data throughout the whole United States,” Snyder said. “We know they’ve tested in Wood County recently, but they had to find the one data set that’s uniform. Somewhere in the United States the last test was done in 2005.”

Snyder said Wood County’s proximity to Toledo had an effect on the clinical care rankings.

“A lot of people go to Lucas County, so there isn’t a need for physicians in Wood County,” she said.

Julie Willems Van Dijk, an assistant scientist on the project, said scientists collected the information from different federal agencies.

These include the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI, the National Center for Health Statistics, the Environmental Protection Agency and the IRS.

The University of Wisconsin completed rankings for the state of Wisconsin for the past seven years.

“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation saw it as an effective tool and asked if we could expand it and create rankings for the whole nation,” said Willems Van Dijk.

She explained some of the reasons for ranking counties nationwide.

“It allows us to put a variety of different measurements together in one place to help people see how their community is doing,” Willems Van Dijk said. “Anyone can use it. That’s one of the reasons we’ve created the Web site. It’s easy to get to the information.”

She also said they are using the rankings to promote awareness.

“Here in Wisconsin, local health officials have been inviting people to get together and improve the health in the community,” she said.

The Wood County Hospital also helps with health awareness through programs, which may affect Wood County’s ranking.

Catherine Harned, director of marketing and business development at the Wood County Hospital, said the hospital has smoking cessation classes for people who want to stop smoking and weight loss classes.

The hospital also has a diabetes education department and provides free screenings that include cholesterol, blood sugar and bone density.

The hospital staff also gives free health lectures.

Willems Van Dijk said MATCH plans to do the rankings until 2012 and will then determine if the rankings are valuable.

There is a project called America’s Health Rankings which has ranked states in health care for the past 20 years.

“It’s really valuable to measure over the long haul,” she said. “We can see which states have improved in health outcomes and look at states that have decreased and see what they are doing differently.”

MATCH would like to be able look at differences on a local level.

“While America’s Health Rankings is great, you need to get it down to a local level,” Willems Van Dijk said. “People in Bowling Green want to know how we are doing and how do we compare to other communities in the state.”

The Web site for the rankings is countyhealthrankings.org.