A new report ranks the overall health of Nebraska’s counties using some 30 factors, including things like childhood poverty, smoking, college attendance, physical activity and access to physicians.
Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says Polk County, in east-central Nebraska, ranked as the state’s healthiest county.
“Polk County has a very low rate of premature death and people in that county are reporting that they feel like they’re in good health,” Van Dijk says. “They also have very good birth outcomes. Only 5% of infants are born at a low birth weight which is better than not only the state of Nebraska but the top performers in the United States.”
Some counties were too small in population to provide useful data, so only 79 of Nebraska’s 93 counties are listed in the rankings. Kimball County, on the southwest tip of the Panhandle, ranked as Nebraska’s least-healthy county at number-79.
“People are dying earlier than in other counties in Nebraska and they’re also reporting they don’t feel as well when they’re living,” Van Dijk says, “so probably higher rates of chronic diseases that interfere with your health, perhaps higher rates of mental health illnesses that also contribute to not feeling well.”
She says counties that did poorly in the rankings should look at this as an opportunity.
“The county health rankings are not meant to shame a county that’s ranking at the lower end of the scale but to serve as a call to action,” Van Dijk says, “to say, what can we do to move these health factors forward and improve on these areas so residents of our community can live longer, healthier lives?”
The rankings come from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest health-focused philanthropy. This is the fifth year of the rankings, published online at: www.countyhealthrankings.org