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How Yolo compares, health-wise, and what it means

By Constance Caldwell, M.D.

This is the fifth year that County Health Rankings have been issued nationwide. Yolo County maintained its rank of fifth in the state of California. That sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, maybe.

The County Health Rankings are compiled by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin for all counties in the United States. The rankings are built on nationwide data and include about 25 health outcomes, such as morbidity and mortality; factors contributing to health, including behaviors affecting health, availability of medical, mental health and dental care; social and economic factors; and factors in the physical environment such as air quality.

Yolo County ranked fifth in California because, per capita, we had less premature death, fewer low birth-weight births, fewer infant and childhood deaths, fewer teen births and fewer preventable hospitalizations. Additionally, the smoking rate for adults is only 8 percent, much lower than the state average of 13 percent.

Our high school graduation rate of 87 percent continues to improve and we have a lower violent crime rate in comparison to the rest of the state. Yolo County also has more primary care physicians and mental health providers per capita.

There are areas, however, in which we could improve. Though better than the state average, when the data was collected, 17 percent of Yolo County’s residents did not have health insurance. It likely will be another year until we know what impact the Affordable Care Act will have on that statistic. Additionally, we have only one dentist per every 2,100 people and 18 percent of our residents experience food insecurity.

The County Health Rankings can be a very useful tool, but with some caveats. To start, the data in some cases are two years old. For example, the 2014 report indicates an unemployment rate in Yolo County of 11.5 percent, but as of December 2013, the rate was at 9.3 percent and dropping, although still higher than the state average of 8.3 percent.

Also, for some measures, three to five years are lumped together. Most importantly, the data do not show variations between communities, and certainly in Yolo County, significant disparities among our communities continue to exist.

A few other statistics of note:

* 18 percent of Yolo County’s children live in poverty according to County Health Rankings, although the most recent estimate from the 2012 American Community Survey (U.S. census) shows a slight improvement at 16.4 percent;

* Binge drinking remains high, at 19 percent of the adult population;

* Sexually transmitted infections are lower than the state average, but still very high. Regrettably, locally collected data show increasing trends since 2010; and

* Obesity remains high at about one in four adults in Yolo County, slightly above the state average and a trend that has not improved in recent years.

The Yolo County Health Department continues to work on efforts to decrease obesity and improve physical activity through our nutrition programs. We recently expanded our tobacco education program that focuses on teens in an effort to stop smoking before it starts. And, we are engaged in a countywide community health assessment that will result in a Community Health Improvement Plan to guide the department’s activities in the coming years.

Additionally, our county’s Department of Employment and Social Services is working hard to enroll low-income adults into Medi-Cal and Covered California, California health insurance exchange, and to reduce food insecurity through the CalFresh program (formerly known as food stamps).

These are just a few of the efforts under way to sustain and improve our health outcomes for all our communities in Yolo County.

— Constance M. Caldwell is Yolo County’s health officer.

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