How Healthy Is Your Neighborhood?

April 02, 2011

Could owning Chicago real estate be bad for your health?

According to a new study by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Cook County residents are some of the least healthy people in the state of Illinois.

The study ranked each Illinois county in two categories:

*Health Outcomes: Measured the rate of residents dying before age 75, the rate of low birth weight in infants, and the overall healthiness of a county.

*Health Factors: Considered health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment. This category takes into account the prevalence of obesity and smoking among residents.

Out of the 102 Illinois counties, Cook County ranked No. 70 in Health Outcomes, which is actually an improvement over its 81st ranking in 2010; and No. 83 in Health Factors, a major drop from No. 59 last year.

Those numbers are nothing to write home about.

Kendall County ranked No. 1 in Illinois for Health Outcomes. DuPage County hit No. 2.

Under Health Factors, DuPage ranked No. 1 and Kendall County No. 3.

So now we can see where the healthy Illinois residents reside.

“The Rankings really show us with solid data that there is a lot more to health than health care. Where we live, learn, work and play affect our health, and we need to use the information from the Rankings to shine a spotlight on where we need to improve so we can take action to address our problems,” said Patrick Remington, MD, MPH, director of the County Health Rankings project and Associate Dean for Public Health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

According to the study:

*Residents are almost twice as likely to be in fair or poor health in the unhealthiest counties.

*Unhealthy counties have significantly lower high school graduation rates.

*Unhealthy counties have fewer grocery stores and fruit markets.

*Unhealthy counties have more than double the amount of children in poverty.

*Unhealthy counties have much higher rates of unemployment.

Most of Illinois’ healthy counties are in the north and west. The most unhealthy lie in the south and east.

Alexander County, located at the southern tip of the state, has been ranked the least healthy county in Illinois.

Proof that unhealthy communities have consequences: The rate of early death in Alexander County is more than twice that in Kendall County, and 45 percent of Alexander County children live in poverty, versus 5 percent of those living in Kendall.

“It’s hard to lead a healthy life if you don’t live in a healthy community,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A. president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

“The County Health Rankings are an annual check-up for communities to know how healthy they are and where they can improve. We hope that policymakers, businesses, educators, public health departments and community residents will use the Rankings to develop solutions to help people live healthier lives.”

According to Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey, the Foundation is launching a new program to help communities improve the health of their residents. Under this new program — part of an initiative called Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health — RWJF will provide grants to up to 14 communities around the country to strengthen broad-based community efforts to improve health.

For more information on the program, visit rwjf.org.

To see the state of health in your county, visit countyhealthrankings.org.

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