21 March 2013

Ranking of state's healthiest counties puts Leelanau on top -- and Wayne dead last

A new ranking of Michigan's healthiest places to live puts Leelanau County -- home to the Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan -- at the top.
Pulling up the rear as the least-healthy spot is Wayne County, according to the study, released today by researchers at the University of Wisconsin.
The annual study, which ranks counties against each other within each state, gave Oakland County the 22nd spot and Macomb the 43rd among 82 counties in Michigan. Keweenaw County was not ranked because of its tiny population (2,156 in the 2010 census), researchers said.
Although the study makes Leelanau's wine country sound like an Eden of health purists and Wayne the opposite, much of the difference in their rankings was driven by income and education levels, said University of Wisconsin associate researcher Angela Russell.
"We know that communities with higher incomes and higher education levels are more likely to be healthier," Russell said.
"For example, in counties with better jobs, people are more likely to have health insurance and have access to stores with healthier food," she said.
The study was based on six variables: mortality (length of life), morbidity (quality of life); health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment.
The study did not compare the health levels for states.
In a different annual study -- called America's Health Rankings -- Michigan was ranked the 37th healthiest state last year -- a big drop from its 2010 rank of 28th, largely because of the state's rise in unemployment and average age during the recession, as jobs ebbed and young graduates fled for other locales, researchers have said.
But some of Michigan's bright spots aren't reflective in the recent study, Russell said.
"I think you have more stories in Michigan (about communities) taking action than any other state," she said.
"Flint has created a 10-year plan for improving health," she said.
"Clare County has started a lot of good programs too. They took action right after our 2010 rankings," which put Clare last, behind Wayne, Russell added.
The goal of the study is to nudge health organizations into taking action by highlighting differences in longevity and in health behavior -- such as smoking, heavy drinking and exercise, said Amber Myers, a health data analyst with the Michigan Department of Community Health.

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