Ozaukee County ranks healthiest in Wisconsin and Menominee County is the least healthy county in the state, according to the eighth annual County Health Rankings, released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI). The rankings are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org.
An easy-to-use snapshot that compares counties within states, the rankings show that where you live influences how well and how long you live. The local level data makes it clear that good health is influenced by many factors beyond medical care including housing, education, jobs, access to healthy foods, and more. This year we took a closer look at premature deaths – or deaths that occur among people under age 75. Exploring Wisconsin’s premature death trends from 1997 to 2014, we find 39 counties have seen improvements in premature death rates, while five have seen worsening rates and the rest saw no change.
“The County Health Rankings provide an opportunity to stimulate conversation about what we can do to improve health at the local level – during a time when there seems to be so little productive dialogue at the Federal level,” said Patrick Remington MD MPH, interim director of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The rankings Key Findings Report reveals that drug overdose deaths are fueling a dramatic increase in premature deaths nationally because of an increase in deaths among 15- to 44-year-olds. From 2014 to 2015, 85 percent of the increase in premature deaths can be attributed to a swift increase in deaths among these younger populations. The rankings Key Findings Report reveals that while myriad issues contributed to the rise, the drug overdose epidemic is the leading cause of death among 25- to 44-year-olds and is a clear driver of this trend. Drug deaths are also accelerating among 15- to 24-year-olds, but nearly three times as many people in this age group die by homicide, suicide, or in motor vehicle crashes.
“The County Health Rankings show us that where people live plays a key role in how long and how well they live,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, RWJF president and CEO. “The rankings allow local leaders to clearly see and prioritize the challenges they face – whether it’s rising premature death rates or the growing drug overdose epidemic – so they can bring community leaders and residents together to find solutions.”
According to the 2017 rankings, the five healthiest counties in Wisconsin, starting with most healthy, are Ozaukee County, followed by Kewaunee, St. Croix, Taylor, and Washington counties. The five counties in the poorest health, starting with least healthy, are Menominee, Milwaukee, Sawyer, Adams, and Washburn counties.
“We know many communities across Wisconsin recognize health involves many factors,” said Kate Konkle, associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. “They are taking action to improve active living, reduce alcohol abuse and respond to the opioid crisis, as well as connect people to mental health services, improve education and make sure everyone has access to safe, affordable housing.”
This year’s rankings also introduce a new measure focused on young people, those ages 16 to 24, who are not in school or working. About 4.9 million young people in the U.S. – one out of eight – fall into this category. Rates of youth disconnection are higher in rural counties (21.6 percent), particularly those in the South and West, than in urban ones (13.7 percent).
“Young adults who are not in school or working represent untapped potential in our communities and our nation that we can’t afford to waste,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, PhD, RN, director of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. “Communities addressing issues such as poverty, unemployment, and education can make a difference creating opportunities for all youth and young adults. The County Health Rankings are an important springboard for conversations on how to do just that.”