Despite efforts to improve health in Wyandotte County during the past few years, new County Health Rankings released today still list Wyandotte County near the bottom of the state’s counties.
Wyandotte County has started a task force, Healthy Communities Wyandotte, and has implemented several programs aimed at improving the health of residents.
“It will take time, but I think you’re doing the right things,” said Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino, senior fellow, Kansas Health Institute.
The sorts of changes that are necessary to improve the rankings will take a long time, he said.
Wyandotte County was 99 out of 102 Kansas counties on today’s list, and one year ago, it was ranked 97th. The 2013 County Health Rankings were released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The low health ranking for Wyandotte County does not come as a surprise to health officials, as it has been that way for some time.
While there are factors that are difficult to change, such as poverty or unemployment, there are other factors that could be more easily changed.
Dr. Pezzino said such factors as smoking, lack of exercise, obesity, sexually transmitted disease, and teen pregnancies are higher in Wyandotte County than the rest of the state, and it might be possible to change health behaviors such as these.
The rankings took into consideration the number of children in poverty, which was about 40 percent in Wyandotte County, compared to the state’s 19 percent.
The violent crime rate here also was higher than state averages.
“It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you,” Dr. Pezzino said about the health rankings. “You know people are poor, children are poor and there is more crime than you wish. What is missing sometimes is the link between those factors and the health in the community.”
While it may be depressing being at the bottom of the list, there also are a number of quality things going on in the community to improve health, he added.
Since the rankings first were published in 2009 and 2010, a task force was formed and worked very hard. There was a lot of interest from the top level, the mayor’s office, the health department and community organizations, he said.
“I am optimistic you are going to improve the health of your community,” Dr. Pezzino said. “It may take years. The numbers published today should not discourage anybody.”
While factors such as poverty and education are hard to change, some people disagree with the notion that it cannot be changed, he added.
"There are programs that can reduce the dropout rate in a community,” he said. “It takes work, dedication, resources, sometimes they take money,” he said. “It has been done before. Things can be done to improve it.”
He said that often, people know they should eat more healthy foods and exercise more, but they don’t always do that. Sometimes they have trouble fitting it into their lives.
What health officials are seeing, he said, is that healthy living is not always decided at the doctor’s office, but it’s at the place where people live, work, learn and play.
“Those are really important drivers in our health,” Dr. Pezzino said. “That’s where you can find important drivers for action.”
While it may take time, he stated he is confident that the health rankings can be turned around.
The 2013 County Health Rankings also listed nearby Johnson County as the healthiest county in Kansas.
The factors considered by the health rankings are not exactly the same as last year; water quality and dental practitioners were added to the list of factors considered this year.
Wyandotte County was behind the state averages is almost all categories of today’s rankings. In health behaviors it ranks last at No. 102.
A call was made to the Wyandotte County Health Department for a comment for this story on Wednesday, but no one could be reached for a comment.
One of the factors, mortality rates, showed Wyandotte County’s rates very high for premature death, at 10,125. The Kansas average was 6,871 and the national benchmark, 5,317.
Some other factors, listed with local state and national benchmarks:
- Poor or fair health, 20 percent Wyandotte County, 13 percent state, 10 percent national.
- Low birthweight, 8.3 percent Wyandotte County, 7.2 percent state, 6 percent national.
- Adult smoking, 26 percent Wyandotte County, 18 percent state, 13 percent national.
- Adult obesity, 38 percent Wyandotte County, 30 percent state, 25 percent national.
- Physical inactivity, 33 percent Wyandotte County, 24 percent Kansas, 21 percent national.
- Excessive drinking, 15 percent Wyandotte County, 15 percent Kansas, 7 percent national.
- Motor vehicle crash death rate, 15 Wyandotte County, 16 state, 10 national.
- Sexually transmitted infections, 687 Wyandotte County, 337 state, 92 national.
- Teen birth rate, 81 Wyandotte County, 41 state, 21 national.
- Uninsured, 24 percent Wyandotte County, 16 state, 11 national.
- Primary care physicians, 1,610 to 1 Wyandotte County, 1,411 to 1 state, 1,067 to 1, national.
- Dentists, 2,792 to 1 Wyandotte County, 2,066 to 1 state, 1,516 to 1, national.
- Preventable hospital stays, 69 Wyandotte County, 67 state, 47 national.
- Diabetic screening, 81 percent Wyandotte County, 86 percent state, 90 percent national.
- Mammography screening, 57 percent Wyandotte County, 66 percent state, 73 percent national.
- High school graduation, 65 percent Wyandotte County, 81 percent state.
- Some college, 45 percent Wyandotte County, 67 percent state, 70 percent national.
- Unemployment, 9.9 percent Wyandotte County, 6.7 percent Kansas, 5 percent national.
- Children in poverty, 40 percent Wyandotte County, 19 percent Kansas, 14 percent national.
- Inadequate social support, 26 percent Wyandotte County, 16 percent Kansas, 14 percent national.
- Children in single-parent households, 47 percent Wyandotte County, 28 percent Kansas, 20 percent national.
- Violent crime rate, 601 Wyandotte County, 395 Kansas, 66 national.
- Daily fine particulate matter, 9 Wyandotte County, 9.7 Kansas, 8.8 national.
- Drinking water safety, 0 percent Wyandotte County, 5 percent Kansas, 0 percent national.
- Access to recreational facilities, 3 Wyandotte County, 8 state, 16 national.
- Limited access to healthy foods, 14 percent Wyandotte County, 8 percent state, 1 percent national.
- Fast food restaurants, 55 percent Wyandotte County, 48 percent state, 27 percent national.