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County loses top spot in health study : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
County loses top spot in health study
Obesity rate, smokers identified as 'areas of concern'

by Matt Schury


Kendall County has slipped in the annual county health rankings put out by the University of Wisconsin Madison Population Health Institute Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The study, entitled County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, looks at all counties in the U.S. measuring health categories in each and assigning rankings per state.

Kendall County dropped to the seventh healthiest county in Illinois after being ranked number one in the state for the last three years, according to the study.

The study ranks things like obesity in adults and smoking, as well as environmental factors like access to recreational facilities and the amount of pollution in an area.

The full report can be found at

It draws data from a myriad of other agencies and systems that monitor health statistics. The years of data examined range from 2005 to 2012.

Two areas in the study that need to be explored further in Kendall County are the number of obese adults and the rate of smoking. The county's obesity rate is listed as 26 percent, which the report says is in the range of concern. The report also shows that 19 percent of adults in the county reported smoking. These two areas present challenges and should be examined further, the study indicates.

Though not in the areas to explore, about a quarter of adults in the study said they did not engage in leisure physical activity, which is consistent with the state numbers.

The report breaks the rankings into two categories--health outcomes and health factors.

Health outcomes are described as being based on the length and quality of life. Health factors are based on behavioral, clinical, social and economic, and environmental effects on health.

Kendall County ranked seventh in health outcomes, a drop from first the last two years, and fourth in health factors, the same ranking as last year.

Under health outcomes, 12 percent of adults reported poor or fair health (adjusting for age) and adults reported an average of three poor physical health days in the past 30 days and 2.8 poor mental health days in the last 30 days. Kendall County also had a 7.4 percent low birth weight.

Other health factors of note in the report include:

•Excessive drinking: 19 percent

•Sexually transmitted infections: 138 per 100,000 people,

•Teen birth rate: 22 percent,

•Uninsured residents under 65: 11 percent,

•Uninsured children: four percent,

•Primary care physician ratio: 2,955-to-1,

•Medicare patients receiving diabetic screenings: 89 percent,

•Residents with some college: 76 percent,

•Unemployment rate: 8.7 percent,

•Children in single parent households: 20 percent,

•Children in poverty: seven percent,

Jan O'Neil, community engagement specialist, University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, said Kendall County is actually doing pretty well.

"I would say the story on Kendall is there is a lot that you've got going for you," she said.

She explained that the health factors form the overall population health model.

"What this model is saying is that health as a whole is a lot more than just going and seeing your doctor," O'Neil said.

O'Neil explained that policy choices like putting organic food stores within walking distance can make healthy personal choices easier. While individuals are responsible for what they eat, a community that has mostly fast food restaurants and convenience stores makes that healthy eating choice that much harder.

"If communities want to make a difference, they should all get together. Everyone has a role to play, not just public health or health care," she said. "You really need everybody at the table and think about the policies and programs that are really affective."

Regarding the ranking system, she said it doesn't necessarily mean a community is failing.

"The whole purpose of this is to call communities to action," she said. "You've got a classic sort of suburban community where things are pretty healthy but there is area for improvement."

Dr. Amaal Tokars, executive director of the Kendall County Health Department, said they take these numbers seriously as they reflect trends toward poor diet, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.

Tokars points out that she and the health department staff discussed what could be the cause of more people reporting poor physical health days in the county.

"So many people are out of work and they don't have insurance so not only would they be more concerned with their physical health, they may, in fact, have poor physical health," she said.

One area of improvement was excessive drinking which declined from 23 percent the previous year.

"We were thrilled about that and hopefully doing a lot of good education made the difference," she said. "We've also had tragedy in our county and I think people are conscientious and do think about those things."

Another improvement was a decline in the Chlamydia rate, she said.

"Chlamydia is something that is on the rise nationwide and it improved a little bit (here)," she said.

Preventable hospital stays did go up which has to do mainly with the elderly and disabled population in the county who are on Medicare.

She said this refers to the fact that people need to be in touch with those in the county to make sure they are getting treatment and health care before a health issue occurs.

"Elders often can be isolated and if nobody is in touch with them and they have progressive problems that might be a preventable hospital stay," she said.

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