Johnson County ranked as one of the top ten counties in health in Iowa

BY CORY PORTER | MARCH 30, 2015 5:00 AM

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Despite being the home of a university with a reputation for hard partying, Johnson County is one of the healthiest counties in Iowa, according to a report released last week by the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program.

Out of the 99 counties in Iowa, Johnson County ranked seventh in health outcomes, which measure how long people are living, how healthy they feel, and mortality rates.

It also ranked third in health factors, which account for measures such as smoking, obesity, and exercise.

Doug Beardsley, the director of the Johnson County Public Health Department, said while comparing counties may not be the best way to determine the health of its citizens, it is a good springboard for his department’s work.

“It was to be a resource, not ‘the’ resource, but a resource for communities to look at, so when they do their health-needs assessment it can kind of give them a starting point,” he said.

He said he was pleased with the ranking Johnson County received and could understand why, given how health conscious the residents are.

The County Health Rankings — a collaborative effort between the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — releases reports annually on nearly every county in every state in the United States.

“We’re providing data to counties to be able to see how healthy they are, where there are good things happening, where they have challenges, and where they can make a difference,” said Kate Konkle, an associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

To create these rankings, Konkle said her team collects data from places such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Census.

Besides looking at measures people would normally associate with health, Konkle said one of the goals for the program is to show how all aspects of a community can influence the health of its citizens.

“Issues like education and employment, income, community safety, housing and transportation all actually have a really big influence and impact on the health of a community,” Konkle said.

David Koch, community health manager for the county Public Health Department, said the high ranking could come from community and government outreach and collaboration.

“I think both the university and even the elected officials, the city councilors, [and] the Board of Supervisors all are very forward thinking and willing to look at innovative ways,” Koch said, “[and the] research that comes out of the university, the advocacy that they have here locally.”

Winneshiek County — in northeastern Iowa with Decorah as county seat — ranked No. 1 in health factors.

Krista Vanden Brink, administrator for the Winneshiek County Public Health Nursing Service, said its high score most likely came from not one source but numerous ones.

“I don’t know if there’s any one thing in particular that really stands out that says we’re better than another county,” she said. “I think it’s just the whole collective grouping,”

Vanden Brink cited community health programs like Helping Services for Northeast Iowa, which advocates smoke-free places, and the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, which teaches children about obesity, as the reason for its success.

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