Mike Creger: Take your pick in health reportIt’s like the scenario you’ll find in a doctor’s office: I’ve got good news and bad news for you.
It’s like the scenario you’ll find in a doctor’s office: I’ve got good news and bad news for you.
That was the case Wednesday as Lake County was tagged as the “unhealthiest” county in the state after a national review of health information taken from each county in the nation.
That bad news was blared across the state despite the fact that in the category that included most of the compiled statistics that indicate a healthy community, Lake finished 16th. So, if you average the two out, we were where health officials expected us, in the middle of the pack.
But the people who make the report, from the Population Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin, doomed Lake County when it wrote that “health outcomes,” in which Lake finished 85th out of the 85 state counties studied, “represent how healthy a county is.”
That’s called red meat to journalists, who, in the interest of simplicity for readers or listeners, love the black and white of winners and losers.
Many of the news reports I listened to Wednesday labeled Lake as the “unhealthiest” but thankfully had some context about how it’s surprising given the availability of health care or the rugged outdoors opportunities here.
And sometimes things are just up to your own interpretation. In Jackson County, deemed the “healthiest” in the report, the reasons cited were hardworking farm kids who participate in 4-H and Future Farmers of America.
Oh, so that’s it.
Lake County health experts have their own theories. Dr. Tom Clifford, who is on the county board and is a former family physician, said he didn’t expect things to be rosy but was surprised at the bottom ranking. He said something as basic as access to healthful food is a challenge in the county because of its geography. But there remains some disconnect between the numbers because the access to food question is in the part of the data set where the county ranked high. If you look at health care, access to exercise, and fewer bad habits, that’s where the county ranked 16.
Reconciling those numbers is something the makers of the report will have to tease out for us. Even they were surprised by the high-low of Lake County.
The county’s director of health and human services, Dennis Henkel, had his questions about the data collected in the “health outcomes,” where we were 85th. It takes into account just two things: death data (mortality) and morbidity. The mortality data looked at anyone dying under the age of 75. The morbidity data is about baby birth weights and phone call surveys asking about people’s health.
Henkel says an inordinate amount of multiple births could knock scores lower. A twin is naturally lower in weight than a single child. He also says the county’s average age might have brought the phone survey numbers down. Lake County has an average age of 43 compared to the overall state number of 34.
And economics can play a part. Lake County has often suffered ups and downs in the economy and job market and people with lower disposable income often forgo health care.
The rankings, which are a first on a nationwide scale, are made to spur conversation and action to create healthier communities. That’s a good thing. No one should panic that we are all dropping like flies in Lake County but we should be more aware of the health of families and neighbors for the long haul.
So perhaps the doctor is simply telling us that we have some pretty good things going on, but watch it, because your family has a history for this or that. Some things we can’t help through genetics, or, in the case of the report, the conclusions from a wide spectrum of statistics. Or, as some call them, worse than lies or damned lies.
My advice? Don’t sweat the rankings. Just get out there and work one up with exercise.
Mike is the editor of the News-Chronicle. He can be reached at 834-2141 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.