Kittitas County dubbed healthiest

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EVAN PAPPAS, Staff Reporter

Kittitas County has been named the healthiest county in Washington State by County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.

The results were published by University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

For the last three years San Juan County ranked first and Kittitas second, but this year has seen the roles reverse.

Of the 39 counties in Washington state, the top three healthiest are Kittitas, San Juan and Whitman. Rounding out the bottom of the list are Pacific, Okanogan and Ferry.

The county health rankings are based on two separate categories of data the first, is health outcomes, which consider mortality (length of life) and morbidity (quality of life).

The second category, health factors, covers a much wider range of data, including tobacco and alcohol use, quality and access to clinical care, income, environmental quality, and even the amount of fast food restaurants.

The data was collected from a variety of sources such as The National Center of Health Statistics, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and several others.

According to Julie Willems Van Dijk, CHRR Deputy Director and researcher at University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, they collect data in both the health outcomes and health factor categories and put them together to form a comparable set of data between counties.

“What we are really doing is seeing how far away from the mean each of the measures are and then we add together to come up with the ranks,” Willems Van Dijk said.

WillemsVan Dijk also said that CHRR came across interesting data but couldn’t include it because it was either state information or because other comparable counties did not have access to similar metrics.

According to Amy Diaz, communications/marketing director of Kittitas Valley Healthcare, Kittitas County residents don’t die as young and are not as ill as in other counties in the state, partly because the number of primary care physicians in Kittitas County has increased over the past five years.

“I think that it’s easier now for someone to take care of their medical problems before they become bigger,” Diaz said.

According to Diaz, Kittitas County has been increasing its number of primary care physicians over the past five years.

Compared to the rest of the state and the national benchmark, Kittitas County has a very low mortality, low physical inactivity, and a high ratio of primary care physicians to the population.

Kittitas County also has a low birth-weight percentage that is well below the national average and very high percentage of prenatal care.

Although Kittitas County ranked first place, there are still places that need to improve, according to Diaz.

Poor physical and mental health days are above the national benchmark, as is adult smoking and obesity.

Despite topping the charts, Kittitas County does not hold that spot in every category, according to Kasey Knutson, health educator at Kittitas County Public Health.

“The data can be a little bit confusing,” Knutson said. “We have some work to do in quite a few areas.”

While Kittitas may be No. 1 in health outcomes, it ranks 10th in health behaviors, 26th in clinical care, 12th in social and economic factors, and 22nd in physical environment.

Willems Van Dijk hopes the study will help people see life choices that relate to health rather than thinking of health as something that only doctors can affect.

“Health is more than health care; it’s about healthy behavior and your environment,” WillemsVan Dijk said. “We need everybody working together to improve our health.”

 

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