ATCHISON, Kan., April 7, 2017 – While Atchison County has received its highest ranking in the 2017 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings at 44th out of 102 ranked counties, there is a deeper story the data tells us. Our 44th ranking in health outcomes means 85 percent of Atchison county residents self-report their health is “excellent, very good or good,” and that premature death or years of potential life lost before the age of 75 for Atchison county citizens is decreasing. This is a trend that has continued over the past seven years.
However, look deeper and we find that Atchison County is ranked 89th out of 102 ranked counties in health factors. These factors are an estimate of our county’s future health as they are based on influencers of health.
What exactly are health factors? They’re broken into four categories: health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment. Each are weighted differently. Social and economic factors are the most influential of all health factors, accounting for 40% of overall health outcomes. Social and economic factors include measures such as high school graduation rate, levels of post-secondary education, percent of children living in poverty, and unemployment.
Health behaviors receive the next highest weight at 30 percent. Health behaviors include measures such as percent of adults who are current smokers, percent of adults who are obese, and percent of adults who are physically inactive.
Why do the experts place so much importance on social and economic factors as they relate to health? Health is influenced by more than healthcare; it’s also equally influenced by environment, education, and income. These factors have a direct effect on an individual’s and community’s health. For example, as illustrated by the County Health Calculator, “In Atchison County, Kansas, if 5 percent more people attended some college and 3 percent more had an income higher than twice the federal poverty level we could expect to save 6 lives, prevent 51 cases of diabetes, and eliminate $300,000 in diabetes costs every year.” What does that mean to local employers and individual citizens? It means less spent on healthcare costs, less lost wages due to illness, and more productive and present employees. The impact of health on our local economy should not be overlooked. Not only must we understand that prioritizing educational and economic opportunity is an important strategy to save lives, improve health, and reduce spending on avoidable illnesses, but that it works in the reverse as well. Having a healthy, vibrant community and citizens is a key factor to employers looking to locate their businesses in a community that can support and attract healthy workers.
Based on the current local data, the 2017 County Health Rankings recommend Atchison County focus on adult smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. These are also the previously identified top focus areas for Live Well, Live Atchison (LWLA). The top three causes of death in Kansas are heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory disease. These three chronic illnesses account for nearly 50 percent of all deaths in Kansas. What do these three have in common? In many cases, they can be addressed by tobacco-free living, healthy eating, and increasing physical activity. The answer isn’t to tell people what to do; it’s to set up their environments so that by design, throughout their normal daily routines, they are able live healthier lifestyles. It is for this reason that LWLA focuses its efforts on effecting change in policies, systems, and environments as they relate to healthy eating, tobacco-free living, and physically-active lifestyles. Functioning sidewalks, trails, bike lanes, access to healthy food choices, and tobacco-free public spaces are not just extras or nice things for a community to have. They are indicators of a community that is not dying, literally or metaphorically.
For more information about the 2017 County Health Rankings visit County Health Rankings.