Rock County stuck at 62nd in county health rankings

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Gina Duwe
Thursday, March 27, 2014

JANESVILLE--The health ranking of Rock County residents won't go up until area unemployment and poverty go down, the county health officer said.

“In order to really, significantly improve the health, we need to look at the foundation for what helps us be healthier, and that is our socioeconomic factors,” Karen Cain said.

Cain was responding to this year's County Health Rankings, which show Rock County stuck at 62nd out of 72 counties, the same as last year.

Rock County has consistently ranked close to the bottom in the annual study from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Walworth County dropped from 34th last year to 38th.

Cain pointed to Ozaukee County, which ranked as the healthiest county and as the wealthiest.

“We know that money or lack of money is an indicator of overall health,” she said.

Rock County ranks 37th in median household income, according to the study.

Fighting poverty means raising graduation rates, Cain said. 

“The more educated people are, the more their overall health is better,” she said.

Even though unemployment was down from last year, children in poverty rose from 21 percent to 23 percent. 

Rock County's rank for health behaviors improved from 67th to 65th. Among the behavior changes:

-- Adult smoking dropped 2 percent to 23 percent.

-- Adult obesity dropped 1 percent to 30 percent.

-- Physical inactivity dropped 1 percent to 23 percent.

-- Births among females ages 15 to 19 went from 40 births per 1,000 to 38 births per 1,000.

“Those are things we try and educate the public about, and it looks like statistically we've made some progress—very small progress,” Cain said.

Sexually transmitted infections increased, however. The chlamydia rate per 100,000 residents went from 410 to 474.


The County Health Rankings is just one set of information health officials use to look at the area's well being, Cain said.

The health department is conducting a community health needs assessments with local hospitals, and that report should be done in June, she said.

“We are trying to collect as much information that will be helpful to us in determining programming,” she said.

Hospitals are updating the last needs assessment completed in 2012. The assessment is mandated for hospitals every three years under the new federal health care law.

The last report concluded Rock County's top health needs were:

-- Mental health-related issues, including substance abuse and inadequate access to treatment.

-- Dental health needs “greatly unmet.”

-- Under utilization of preventive health screenings.

-- Harmful lifestyle choices, including obesity, smoking and inactivity.

Cain said health officials still are collecting data. When finished, hospitals can better direct programming toward needs.

Another piece of the puzzle is Transform Rock County, a coalition that received a $450,000 federal grant in July 2012. The grant money ends in September. 

Health department health educator Katie Schroeder, who is the project director for the grant, said the coalition has worked with schools on nutrition and exercise:

-- The Edgerton School District received about $10,000 to buy a salad bar for the school cafeteria and start a school garden with a goal of being able to serve the fresh produce at lunch, she said.

-- A farm-to-school subcommittee of the coalition has been trying to bridge the gap between local growers and distributors, she said. The healthy eating subcommittee held training for school food service staff on how to cook with local produce.

-- Clinton elementary and middle schools and Beloit's Cunningham Intermediate School started “active classrooms.” More than 2,000 minutes of additional activity has been logged since January, Schroeder said. Teachers give five-minute “brain breaks” to get students out of their desks, she said. Increased activity minutes are encouraged during physical education and during before- and after-school activities.

Teachers are seeing improvements in their classrooms, Schroeder said, which is exciting because they hope to share success stories to encourage more schools to join the effort.

Youth2Youth of Rock County has been educating youth about OTPs—other tobacco products, such as candy-flavored cigarettes, which often are targeted at kids.

Grant money has been used to fight secondhand-smoke exposure and help six apartment complexes in Janesville, Beloit and Evansville go smoke free.

“We're still working to get more,” Schroeder said.

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