Not everybody will benefit equally from Dane County’s top ranked healthy living standards and environment.
According to the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s annual County Health Rankings, released March 29, Dane County placed third for best health outcomes and seventh for best health factors, Kate Konkle, associate researcher at the UW Population Health Institute, said.
But while this ranking shows Dane County is doing well compared to the rest of Wisconsin, overall rankings do not take into consideration the health disparity between different population groups within the county. Konkle said where individuals choose to live can affect their overall health.
The main ranking, health outcomes, looks at the life expectancy in a particular county and how healthy its residents are during their lives, Konkle said.
The other ranking, health factors, Konkle said, looks at four areas that impact one’s health. These include activities in one’s life, the quality of health care, socioeconomic factors and physical environment.
Konkle said being healthy went beyond having health care. It also includes factors like education, income, housing and transportation.
Health factors play a role on how healthy people in a community will be in the future, Konkle said.
The Race to Equity Report shows Dane County has huge health disparities, so while the county looks good overall, not everyone in Dane County enjoys the same opportunities, Konkle said.
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“We would be risking the health of many in our community if we were to ignore these differences,” Konkle said.
Having a university and the Capitol in Madison affects Dane County’s education and income levels, Konkle said. Dane County also has low unemployment and generally good high school graduation rates.
If Dane County broke down the 87 percent high school graduation rate, it would show achievement gaps in the educational system, Konkle said.
Doug Voegeli, director of Environmental Health for Madison and Dane County Public Health, said the rankings show Dane County has improved in recent years.
But there is still a lot of work to be done in the county, Voegeli said. The social and economic factors play a large role in the ability to use the health care and food choices available, which affect individuals’ health. As the socioeconomic factors improve for all residents, so will the overall health of the county.
Konkle said even if individuals live in an area that has a good grocery store that sells healthy food, they may not be able to purchase the food, just like one may live near a good health clinic but without insurance, they are unable to access its services.
“Having health insurance doesn’t [mean] equal access,” Konkle said.
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Overall, Dane County ranked lower in the social and economic areas as well as the physical environment, Voegeli said. This shows quality of life could be improved by bettering physical and mental health.
But the county has lowered smoking rates and residents are losing weight, he said, which is reflected in the high ranking of health behaviors.
Individuals in Dane County are also not dying prematurely and ranked well in life expectancy, which is reflected in the high mark on clinical care and having great medical facilities in Madison, he said.
One area that needs to be worked on is Dane County’s excessive drinking, Voegeli said. Voegeli clarified excessive drinking as “binge drinking and driving while drunk,” saying these behaviors “cause some issues.”
“If you’re healthy, you should live longer and the quality of life throughout your whole life course should be stronger and healthier,” Vogeli said.