March 27, 2014

Health institute: Sedgwick County ranks 75th for healthy lifestyle

Johnson County is the healthiest county in Kansas, while Sedgwick ranks 69th in health outcomes and 75th for healthy lifestyle.

Johnson County is the healthiest county in Kansas, while Sedgwick ranks 69th in health outcomes and 75th for healthy lifestyle.

So says the 2104 County Health Rankings, a national project of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Sedgwick County scored well in terms of access to medical care, according to Gianfranco Pezzino, a physician and senior fellow with the Kansas Health Institute. The Kansas institute serves as a cooperating agency in the survey.

The county scored poorly on measures of premature death, low-birthweight babies and the number of days a month people reported being in poor physical or mental health.

And while county residents have good access to health care, they don’t always make the best use of it.

“What’s really dragging down the ranking in Sedgwick County is the socio-economic factors,” Pezzino said. “When you look at that list, it’s very revealing.

“You have a population that is less educated than the rest of the state and you have more people who live in poverty. You have over one-third of people in your county who live in a single-parent household; you have almost one in four children who live in poverty.”

Such factors affect the overall health of the community and “the way people behave when it comes to decisions about their health,” Pezzino said.

The county scored poorly on measures such as percentage of people with health insurance, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, teen births, violent crime and alcohol-related traffic deaths.

The health-outcome portion of the analysis consists of five measures: premature death, percentage of the population reporting overall poor or fair health, average numbers of poor physical and mental health days per person per month, and low birthweight.

The study found Wichita worse than the state average for premature death, a statistical measure of the number of years people die before age 75.

For Sedgwick County, the study found 7,590 years of potential life lost per 100,000 people, compared with a statewide average of 6,871. Johnson County, slightly more populous but also richer, safer and thinner, ranked No. 1 in the state at 4,586 years.

Sedgwick County residents face about 3.2 days a month of poor physical or mental health, compared to state averages of 3 and 2.8 days and Johnson County averages of 2.4 and 2.4.

And 8.1 percent of Sedgwick County live births are low birthweight, compared to 7.2 percent statewide and 6.3 percent in Johnson County.

The health factors ranking measures the county’s lifestyle and is based on an array of measures that can affect the overall health of the community.

Some key findings:

• Thirty percent of county residents are obese, matching the state average.
• The incidence of sexually transmitted disease is 538 per 100,000 population, compared to 369 statewide.
• Teen births in the county stand at 54 per 1,000 women, compared to 41 statewide.
• Nearly four out of 10 traffic deaths in Sedgwick County were alcohol-involved, compared to 35 percent statewide.
• The high school graduation rate is 75 percent, compared to 83 percent statewide.

Sedgwick County’s scores for access to health care were good, with a doctor for every 1,205 residents, compared to a state average of one to 1,380. While it wasn’t measured in the survey, Pezzino said Sedgwick County has very good hospitals to go with those providers.

But despite that access, the county was slightly below the state average for women getting mammograms at recommended intervals, he noted.

“For that particular indicator you are competing with rural Kansas where people may have to travel several hours and wait for months before they can get an appointment for a mammogram,” Pezzino said. “What that tells me is just having good hospitals and good physicians is not enough to assure good health in your community.”

Sedgwick County officials are at work trying to improve the state’s ranking in selected categories, said J’Vonnah Maryman, director of public health performance at the county.

For example, the county is working with the volunteer Visioneering Health Alliance to try to address issues of obesity and diabetes, both of which are related to access to healthier food for people in economically disadvantaged areas of the community.

The Health Department also works closely with the activist group Tobacco-Free Wichita to try to cut smoking.

That effort appears to be experiencing some success, Maryman said. The percentage of county adults who smoke is now 19 percent, a point higher than the state average but down two points since 2010.

The county operates a “Healthy Babies” program aimed at reducing infant mortality and low birthweight. The program educates women on healthy behaviors before and during pregnancy that can affect their unborn children.

On a related front is the “Healthy Today, Healthy Tomorrow” program for teens. One focus of the program is to try reduce the teen pregnancy rate by encouraging teens to postpone becoming sexually active.

Although the program is abstinence based, it also includes some education on protection from pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, Maryman said.

Maryman said if there was one thing she could change, it would be the socio-economic conditions that lead to poor community health.

“When you look at the health factors, it appears to be those (conditions) that that are heavily influencing our ratings,” she said.

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