Allen County’s slip in health rankings strengthens resolve



March 30, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Allen County dropped in its health rankings for 2015, negating the last couple of years of upward trending.
We are now ranked 87th of the 101 counties surveyed in Kansas, down from 79 for 2014.
It should be noted the data used in the nationwide study is from 2012, though that only makes last year’s gains all the more puzzling. The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps is an annual study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Several factors continue to work against efforts to improve the local quality of life, including higher than average rates of unemployment and children in poverty; a decline in preventive health measures such as mammograms and a high number of uninsured.
Taking the last first, if Kansas were to expand Medicaid many of our uninsured would then have access to affordable health care. Kansas’ current coverage is one of the barest in the country, leaving many working poor unable to afford health insurance.
At 5.5 percent, our unemployment rate is just a tad above the state average of 5.4 percent. The national rate is 5.7.
A good-paying job is the ticket out of poverty. But to get a shot at that ticket, a good education is essential.
Allen County has an above-average high school graduation rate at 93 percent, but only 61 percent record having “some” college experience, compared to the state average of 68 percent.
Whether it’s a college degree or a certificate in a trade, more students need to keep their sights set on furthering their education after graduation to ensure they qualify for better-paying jobs.
To our embarrassment more than 25 percent of our children live in poverty. For the last 10-plus years that number has steadily increased up from 17 percent. We now exceed both state and national averages.
Contributing to that specific problem is that 35 percent of our children live in single-parent households, compared to the state average of 29 percent. We also have a higher average of teenage pregnancies.
As for obesity, we’ve gone from 26 to 34 percent in the last two years. We also have an extremely high rate — 50 percent — of fatal car accidents in which alcohol was involved, compared to the state average of 33 percent. Allen County experiences more than double the number of motor vehicle fatalities than the state average.
All these factors raise the risk of a person in Allen County losing potential years of life before the age of 75.

THE GOOD news is the opportunity to lead a better, healthier life in Allen County has improved, according to the study.
We gained seven notches — up to 74th place — that indicate we are making strides in developing factors that positively influence our health, including better monitoring of diabetics, preventable hospital stays and a decrease in violent crime rates.
Do we have a long way to go? Certainly. And studies like these are valuable in helping us keep a focus on the direction.
­ — Susan Lynn