Woodford ranks second in study

Adam Larck

Woodford County residents can add another feather to their cap.

According to a study released by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Woodford County is the second healthiest county in Illinois out of 102 counties.

Last year, the county was ranked third in the state.

“I, apparently, should never attempt to forecast the future as I predicted we would drop in the rankings this year,” Woodford County Health Department Administrator Laurie Schierer said. “We are just grateful for the resources that are available to our citizens to make Woodford a healthy place to live.”

The only county to beat it is Kendall County, located in the Chicago metropolitan area.

In the Tri-County Area, Woodford easily outpaced both Tazewell (34) and Peoria (61) counties.

Schierer said she does not know why Woodford did so much better than the two other counties, as she does not know as much about them.

“What I do know is that each community has different strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “Each county develops a set of health priorities which they address with goals and strategies. In Woodford we are working on obesity, access to mental health care, and substance Abuse.”

She added that the counties do work together in many areas, such as emergency response and communications.

The results factor in six different areas: mortality, morbidity, health behaviors, clinical care, social & economic factors and physical environment. Each of those are then broken down farther.

“These ranking are developed using a large variety of data sources,” Schierer said.  “The researchers have a matrix; their way of prioritizing the different sources of information. When they applied this matrix to the information available on the health of communities, Woodford compared well. To understand why we rank high is to understand that health is a complex issue with many components.

“Bottom line, citizens from Woodford enjoy the opportunity to live a healthy life in our community.”

Under mortality, Woodford ranks eighth. The mortality category ranks premature death, which is “years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 population (age-adjusted),” according to the report.

In the morbidity category, the county ranks third by having lower poor or fair health in the community, poor physical health days, poor mental health days and a lower birth weight than the state average.

The only category that Woodford was beat on in the Tri-County Area was health behaviors. Woodford ranked 30, while Tazewell ranked 21.

The reason for the difference is that Tazewell has a slightly lower adult obesity (27 percent to 29 percent) and excessive drinking (14 percent to 19 percent) rate.

“We know we have some of our citizens make health choices that put them at risk,” Schierer said. “Adult smoking rates in Woodford County are higher than in the State of Illinois in general. Woodford adult obesity rates are higher than Illinois’ as well. We eat less fruits and vegetables which is just one factor in those higher obesity levels.”

However, Woodford beats Tazewell on physical inactivity rate, sexually transmitted infections and teen birth rate.

Two of the other highest categories for Woodford came from clinical care (fourth in state) and social & economic factors (third in state).

Woodford does better than the state average in the clinical care category in the percentage of uninsured people, preventable hospital stays, diabetic screening percentages and mammography screening percentages. The only category the state average is better in is the number of primary care physicians per person. The state average is 778:1, while Woodford sits at 1,014:1.

In the social and economic factors, Woodford beats the state in all seven sub-categories. In addition, Woodford beats the national average in how many residents have college experience, the percentage of children in poverty, the percentage of inadequate social support and the percentage of children in single-parent households.

The final category, physical environment, was the worst for Woodford, ranking 32 in the state.

“In evaluating physical environment, Woodford scored well in air quality,” Schierer said. “We were better than the State average in the number of fast food restaurants. We do have, however, more than twice as many low-income residents who do not live close to a grocery store. While we are probably not going to be able to impact the number of grocery stores, we do have a Woodford on Wellness Committee that is addressing obesity issues in our county. One of their goals is to encourage the development of more farmers markets in our county.”

While Woodford did better than the state average in both air pollution categories, the county had two fewer recreational facilities than the state average and had a bigger limited access to healthy foods.

Overall, Schierer said that, while the ranking may have gone up, she is not sure if any of the counties in the area feel like they are doing any better.

“The depressed economy and the continued reduction of funding in areas such as mental health are definitely having an impact on our communities,” she said. “Since all of the counties are experiencing these challenges, these rankings won’t reflect that.”