By Dr. Constance Caldwell
We are beaming at the Health Department upon hearing that Yolo County is up from 12th place in 2010 to fifth in 2013 in the County Health Rankings, a nationwide ranking compiled by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin. We have a lot to be proud of as we travel on this positive trajectory as compared to the other 58 counties in California. Still, our work is not done.
The County Health Rankings (www.countyhealthrankings.org) are built on data that is available nationwide and include 25 health outcomes. The health outcomes encompass morbidity and mortality and factors contributing to health, which include behaviors affecting health, availability of medical and dental care, social and economic factors and factors in the physical environment such as air quality.
Some of the factors that contribute to Yolo County’s high ranking as compared to the rest of California include: less premature death; fewer low birth-weight births, preventable hospitalizations and people with poor or fair health; an adult smoking rate of only 7 percent, which is half of the state average of 14 percent; a higher rate of high school graduation; lower teen pregnancy and violent crime rates; and more physicians per population.
Despite the high ranking, there is still room for improvement. Though better than the state average, 16 percent of Yolo County’s people do not have health insurance and we have only one dentist per every 2,200 county residents. Unemployment is still high and 21 percent of the county’s children live in poverty. Binge drinking has improved but still occurs in 17 percent of the adult population.
Sexually transmitted infections are lower than the state average but still very high and rising. Air pollution continues to be a significant problem, access to recreational facilities is lower than the state average and more than half of our restaurants fall into the “fast food” category. Lastly, about one in four adults in Yolo County are obese, which is slightly above the state average and has not improved in recent years.
The County Health Rankings can be a useful tool for local governments to plan and strategically allocate limited resources. With the ranking in mind, the Yolo County Health Department continues to work on efforts to decrease obesity and improve physical activity through our nutrition programs. We currently work with pregnant and parenting teen moms and are developing additional programs to address high-risk behaviors among our youths, such as our active tobacco prevention program.
We are proud of our rise in the ranks, but we realize the ranking reflects the health of the county as a whole and does not highlight variations between communities, some of which are significant. For example, there is great disparity within Yolo County in the teen birth rate. These variations are often driven by socio-economic factors, thus highlight the link between wealth and health.
It is also important to acknowledge that many counties rank closely on a number of factors and the fact that we rank higher does not necessarily mean we are doing significantly better. Some of the factors in which we ranked high have not actually improved significantly over the years.
So today we measuredly celebrate the relatively good health of our county as a whole and continue to support and advocate for programs and resources that will help bring all members of our community into a state of good health.
— Dr. Constance Caldwell is Yolo County’s health officer. This “County Update” column is published periodically.