CORBIN — By John Ross / Staff Writer
The statistics are out — and Whitley, Knox and Laurel counties have been comparatively ranked against Kentucky’s other 117 counties concerning healthy living.
The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program is a collaborative effort between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
According to the website (www.countyhealthrankings.org), “We know that much of what influences our health happens outside of the doctor’s office — in our schools, workplaces and neighborhoods.
County Health Rankings & Roadmaps help communities create solutions that make it easier for people to be healthy in their own communities, focusing on specific factors that we know affect health, such as education and income. Having health insurance and quality health care are important to our health, but we need leadership and action beyond health care.”
Laurel County was the highest ranked of the three counties — they are number 64 out of 120.
Whitley and Knox counties were ranked much worse — numbers 96 and 98, respectively, out of 120.
“Ranking the health of nearly every county in the nation, the County Health Rankings illustrate what we know when it comes to what’s making people sick or healthy,” the website states. “The County Health Roadmaps show what we can do to create healthier places to live, learn, work and play.”
There are two ultimate goals of this county-by-county, state-by-state health ranking system — to show where communities are in terms of current health, and to show ways to improve the health of each county resident.
The website states that “County Health Rankings show the rank of the health of nearly every county in the nation and illustrate that much of what affects health occurs outside of the doctor’s office.”
According to the website, the rankings help counties understand what influences residents’ health and longevity.
Several measures determine rankings, including the rate of people dying before age 75, high school graduation rates, unemployment, limited access to healthy foods, air and water quality, income, and rates of smoking, obesity and teen births.
The path to better health in communities is called the County Health Roadmap.
According to the website, the Roadmaps help communities bring people together from all walks of life to look at the many factors that influence health, focus on strategies that work, learn from other communities, and make changes that will have a lasting impact on health.
When comparing Knox, Laurel and Whitley counties, there are some significant details.
Health outcomes are the actual rankings of each county, which was mentioned earlier in this story.
There are several categories which are reviewed and ranked, and some rankings may differ from overall rankings.
The first category listed is mortality, specifically, premature deaths.
The report considers premature death any person who passes before hitting age 75.
The state’s overall average is 8,768 persons per 100,000 people.
Knox County fared the worst of the three counties at 12,369. Whitley was a close second with 11,488 premature deaths. Laurel County, between the three, fared the best, with 9,313.
However, those numbers, when compared with the other Kentucky counties, change the rankings of each county. With premature deaths, Knox County is 100 out of 120, Whitley remains the same, and Laurel County is 53 out of 120.
Morbidity rates are also compared, which is the quality of life for residents of each county.
Knox County does a bit better on this statewide comparison, ranking 93 out of 120.
Whitley and Laurel counties, on the other hand, fared a bit worse – 99 out of 120 for Whitley, and 67 out of 120 for Laurel.
The final number comes from those two rates, but there are other comparative factors stepping into play.
Also reviewed are the various health factors which directly affect the health outcomes. That includes behaviors, clinical care, socioeconomic factors, and the physical environment.
Whitley County saw a dramatic rank increase in health factors as compared to the other 119 counties – number 71.
Knox County ranked a bit worse in this category – number 106 of 120.
Laurel County was also ranked worse – number 79 out of 120.
One health factor, behavior, entails several characteristics, including smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, fatal car crashes, sexually-transmitted diseases and the teenage birth rate. Each county received a rank in this category – Knox came in at 97; Laurel was 92; and Whitley was ranked a bit higher at 64.
A second health factor reviewed is availability to clinical care within the county borders. This reviews the number of uninsured residents, primary care physicians, dentists, preventative hospital stays, and diabetic and mammography screenings. Whitley County was ranked high on this comparative review – 30 out of 120. Laurel was ranked number 58, while Knox County was number 86.
The third health factor includes several contributors to healthy living, including education, unemployment rates, the number of children in poverty, the numbers of residents receiving inadequate social support, the number of children living in single-parent households, and the violent crime rate. Laurel County ranks 80 out of 120 on this health factor, while Whitley County ranks 87 and Knox ranks 108.
Finally, the last health factor review is the physical environment. That looks at several contributing factors, including the safety and availability of healthy drinking water, access to recreational facilities, access to healthy foods and the number of fast food restaurants. Whitley was the worst of the three counties comparatively – number 102 of 120. Knox County fared better, ranking number 89 out of 120. Laurel County was much higher on the list, 51 out of 120.
This is the fourth year of the rankings, which are available online at www.countyhealthrankings.org. Data from these rankings can help lay the groundwork for counties to improve the health of their citizens, not only through health professionals but governors, mayors, judge/executives, magistrates, business leaders, and the residents themselves.
COUNTY HEALTH RANKINGS (OUT OF 120)
KNOX LAUREL WHITLEY
Health Outcomes 98 64 96
Mortality 100 53 96
Morbidity 93 67 99
Health Factors 106 79 71
Health Behaviors 97 92 64
Clinical Care 86 58 30
Social/Economic Factors 108 80 87
Physical Environment 89 51 102
Information courtesy www.countyhealthrankings.org