Janesville65.1°

Health ranking is ill wind

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GINA R. HEINE
November 16, 2007
— Rock County dropped five spots to 50th in its health ranking among the state's counties, while Walworth County came in at 39th, according to a study released today by the University of Wisconsin.

Top concerns in Rock County are nitrates in water and lead poisoned children, both ranking 70th among the state's 72 counties, the study shows.


That's not a surprise for Rock County Health Department officials who say they're already taking steps to address those problems with more water testing and a lead-reduction program.


"We're making some significant strides in reducing the risk to kids and all of our residents," said Dr. Joseph Schurhammer of the county health department.


The report is the annual "health check-up" of the counties and city of Milwaukee developed by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The 2007 rankings measure overall health as a combination of the premature mortality rates and quality of life reported by adults.


Rock County ranked:


-- 34th in health care, including health insurance, recent dentist visits, mammography and diabetic care.


-- 55th in health behaviors, including cigarette smoking, physical activity, fruit and vegetable consumption, binge drinking, teen birth rate, sexually transmitted diseases, violent crime and vehicle crash deaths


-- 62nd in socioeconomic factors, including high school graduation rate, poverty and divorce.


-- 73rd in physical environment, including air quality, ozone, nitrates in drinking water, pre-1950 housing and lead poisoning in children.


High rankings for nitrates in water, lead poisoned children and other environmental issues brought the county's health determinants down to 65.


Two suburban counties outside Milwaukee—Ozaukee and Waukesha—are the two healthiest in the state, according to the study.


They also happen to be among the wealthiest counties, which is no surprise, said Pat Remington, director of UW Population Health Institute.


Statewide, the study found 22 days of potential life were lost per person, which suggests there are people dying before age 75 who could live longer with better health behaviors and care, said Jessica Athens, one of the graduate student researchers.


Ozaukee County's rate was 15 days of potential life lost per person, while Menominee County's rate was 52 days of potential life lost per person, she said.


Rock County's rate was 24 days of potential life lost per person, while Walworth County's rate was 20 days of potential life lost per person.


"We knew there were issues," Schurhammer said of Rock County's water quality. "I don't think it's horrible, but it is a concern."


Residents should have their wells tested about once a year for bacteria contamination and high nitrates, said Tim Banwell, Rock County environmental health director.


The health department has been advertising its water-testing program, and the number of tests is increasing, Schurhammer said. This year, the department has tested almost 800 well samples, double the number from 2004.


After getting test results, residents can take the recommended action to improve their water quality, officials said.


The county board recently approved another full-time position for the health department, which allows double the lab hours for analyzing water samples, he said.


As for lead poising, the county has reduced the number of cases in kids age 6 and younger by 73 percent from 1998 to 2005.


"We address these things, but sometimes it takes time to show results," Schurhammer said.


Sixteen homes in the county have received funds to reduce or eliminate lead exposure through the Healthy Homes for Healthy Kids program, said Dave Somppi, the county community development manager. The county received a $1 million federal grant last year for the program.


The county is working with Janesville and Beloit to help homeowners make needed repairs to reduce lead hazards in homes. Another 70 homes will receive funding over the next two years, Somppi said.


"If even a handful (of children) were prevented from becoming lead poisoned, it's well worth it," he said. "The societal costs from lead poisoning are very high."


TO LEARN MORE

To find out how to get your well water tested or apply for the lead reduction program, contact the Rock County Health Department, 3328 N. Highway 51, Janesville, or call (608) 757-5440.


Applications for the Healthy Homes for Healthy Kids program also are available on the county Web site at www.co.rock.wi.us/index.html.
Click here to view the complete study
Read a snapshot of the Rock County results and Walworth County results

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