Montgomery County ranks near the bottom of the list of the healthiest counties in Ohio while nearby Warren and Greene counties rank near the top, according to the fourth annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The findings, released Wednesday, show how crime, poverty and other social ills that plague urban areas in the Miami Valley can dramatically influence health outcomes, even in neighboring communities, experts say.
“In order for Montgomery County to become healthier, we need to make progress in a couple of areas; one is healthy lifestyles,” said Jim Gross, Montgomery County’s health commissioner. “But if you’re challenged by social circumstances, living a healthy lifestyle may be problematic.”
Gross noted the unemployment rate in Montgomery County, 8.8 percent, is among the highest of any large urban county in the state, while median annual household income, about $41,000, is the lowest.
“The urban counties all face similar social circumstances,” Gross said. “And we know from studies that 15 percent of health is determined by social circumstances.”
Another 40 percent is attributable to lifestyle choices, he said, such as smoking, alcohol consumption and lack of physical activity. Combined, those factors helped push Montgomery County’s ranking down to No. 74 from No. 70 a year ago, out of 88 Ohio counties, according the ranking report.
By contrast, Warren and Greene counties, which have some of the lowest levels of crime and poverty in the state, ranked No. 8 and No. 14, respectively,
“As we’ve drilled down into those numbers, a lot of it (ranking) has to do with the low number of folks living in poverty here, and the fact that a lot of our residents are highly educated and have higher paying jobs,” said Duane Stansbury, Warren County health commissioner. “Along with that goes, typically, pretty good health care coverage.”
Warren County’s population is also a more mobile population than many other counties, Stansbury said. That allows residents to seek care outside the county, which actually has a lower number of of doctors per capita than Montgomery County, he said.
With few exceptions, however, many Miami Valley counties still have higher levels of obesity, excessive drinking, physical inactivity and other risk factors than state and national averages.
In six out of 10 local counties, for example, the percentage of the population considered obese ranges from 31-34 percent, according to the ranking report. Statewide, the figure is 30 percent.
Overall, the Miami Valley reflects the general trend in Ohio, which ranked 35th in the United Health Foundation’s 2012 America’s Health Rankings of all states, based on health data gathered from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among other sources.