County ranks as state’s 10th-healthiest

Melnick says annual report highlights areas that need improvement

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Complete 2014 County Health Rankings report.

Clark County is the 10th-healthiest county in the state, according to a national report released Wednesday.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute ranked thousands of counties in all 50 states to compile the 2014 County Health Rankings.

The rankings are based on 29 factors that affect health, such as education, income, community safety, housing, access to care, air pollution levels and rates of smoking, obesity and teen births.

This is the fifth year of the annual health rankings. Every year, the county has ranked between eighth and 11th among the state’s 39 counties.

Clark County’s spot at No. 10 makes it the healthiest county in Southwest Washington. Neighboring Skamania County came in at No. 17 and Cowlitz County was near the bottom at No. 34.

While the rankings provide a glimpse of the health of the community, Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County Public Health director and health officer, warns against putting too much significance into the numbers.

The rankings aren’t statistically significant — that is, ranking higher than a previous year doesn’t necessarily mean the county is more healthy than it was the prior year — and can fluctuate depending on the measures used, Melnick said. For example, a small rural county that experiences an additional homicide may drastically impact the rankings, which then bumps other counties, he said.

“I see these as a tool we can use, but we need to dig deeper,” Melnick said.

But the rankings do highlight some areas for improvement in Clark County, he said.

One such area is access to care. Clark County has one primary care physician for every 1,469 residents. The state average is one provider for every 1,216 residents, according to the report. The ratio of dentists and mental health providers is also worse in Clark County, according to the report.

“It’s an area we can improve in,” Melnick said.

Other areas that could use improvement in Clark County are obesity rates, adult tobacco use, physical inactivity, child immunization rates, access to healthy food and chlamydia rates, Melnick said.

The adult obesity rate in Clark County is 29 percent, which is about equal to the state rate, according to the report. But throw in the number of overweight adults and that percentage would climb closer to 65 percent, or two-thirds of adults, Melnick said.

The adult smoking rate in Clark County is 15 percent and about 19 percent of adults report no leisure-time physical activity. While those numbers are on par with the state rates, they could still be improved upon, Melnick said.

The good news, Melnick said, is health officials are already aware of the problem areas.

“A lot of the issues in here are issues the county and our partners are beginning to address,” he said.

For example, the health department and its community partners are collaborating to improve access to healthy foods by working with neighborhood markets and helping farmers markets to implement programs to accept SNAP benefits (formerly known as federal food stamps).

“We’re a pretty healthy place to be,” Melnick said, “but there’s a lot of room for improvement.”