A new report ranks Nebraska and all other states county-by-county in terms of the health and longevity of its residents. Julie Willems Van Dijk, a scientist and community health expert, explains the goals of the rankings.
“We do this so people can see about the health of their own community,” Willems Van Dijk says. “Just like every year, you go to the doctor’s office and get an annual checkup, much of what influences your health is really where you live, where you work, where you go to school. This report provides your listeners with an opportunity to see how healthy is my community?”
She says the criteria that go into compiling the rankings range from air quality measurements to the number of smokers in any given county.
“We look at the many different factors that influence how long we live and how well we live,” Willems Van Dijk says. “We look at measures like the obesity rate, educational rates in the community, access to healthy foods. We look at lots of different things that will determine how long you live in your community.”
The report is available online and she says the hope is that people will access it, learn about their communities weaknesses in obesity, for example, then strive to do something about turning it around.
“How could we make our community more friendly for walking and biking and physical activity?” Willems Van Dijk says. “Really simple things people can do is get together with other neighbors and have a walking club. Or, talk with your school district about how can we get our gyms open to use in off-school hours.”
She says Nebraska’s best- and poorest-ranking counties are widely scattered.
“The healthiest county in Nebraska is Cedar and the second-healthiest is Wayne,” Willems Van Dijk says. “The unhealthiest is Thurston and the second-unhealthiest is Kimball.”
She notes, 18 counties in Nebraska could not be ranked as the populations are too small and they had to be eliminated.
The report, “2011 County Health Rankings,” was produced by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
See the full report on the state’s 93 counties, and those in any state, by visiting www.countyhealthrankings.org.