By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
Montgomery and Chester Counties are considered two of the healthiest in all of Pennsylvania according to the county health rankings report of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released Wednesday.
For seven years, the health foundation has collaborated with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute to rank the health of the counties in each state using a specific model. The model uses health outcomes and health factors to determine which county is the healthiest.
“The health outcome is a measure of the county’s current state of health,” said Robert Wood Johnson Foundation community coach Jerry Spegman, adding that the health factors predict the future health of each county.
Chester County is the healthiest community in Pennsylvania according to its health outcomes ranking but ranked number two for health factors. Spegman said the numbers show that Chester County is a little bit healthier today than it may be in the future although not by much since 2 of 67 counties is still a great ranking. When it comes to Montgomery County, the rankings show it being even healthier in the future than what it is today. Montgomery is the third healthiest county in Pennsylvania currently but was ranked number one in health factors, showing that the community’s health will continue to progress.
Chester County Health Department Director Jeanne Casner said the positive health ranking is because of a collaborative effort. Chester County went from being the fourth healthiest county last year to now number one.
“It shows us that we’re heading in the right direction but we can’t give up. We can’t get complacent,” Casner said.
She contributes part of the healthy ranking to the county’s strategic business plan which includes a focus on the area’s health through departments like housing, education and employment. In addition, the county did a collaborative health assessment where the data from the specific measurements in the county health rankings are used to determine areas that need improvement.
“Every year we do a detailed analysis. We share it with department heads in the county … then we make sure our health department staff are educated on it. We share it as much as we can to help people understand that it’s not just that total ranking,” Casner said adding that it’s about looking at the specific data measurements in the rankings report.
Spegman said every county in every state will have health measures that need to be addressed no matter their ranking.
“The goal is not just to get a good ranking in our survey every year. The goal is obviously to do right by the people living in your county,” he said.
When it comes to predicting the future health of each county, there are four main categories under the health factors section. The categories are health behaviors, clinical care, physical environment and social and economic factors. Under those categories there are specific measurements such as adult obesity and physical activity under health behaviors.
Montgomery County ranked number one in social and economic factors and in clinical care as well as ranking number two in health behaviors.
“We’re very pleased to be ranked first overall in health factors and third in health outcomes across the state of Pennsylvania,” said Montgomery County Commissioners’ vice chairman Dr. Val Arkoosh.
Arkoosh is serving as the interim medical director for the Montgomery County Health Department. In 2011, the county ranked number five overall in health and Arkoosh said this year’s ranking shows the progress that’s been made and it wasn’t by accident.
“We have worked very, very hard in a number of areas to make Montgomery County a healthy place to live,” she said.
One of the ways the county has done this is through a plan called “Montco 2040: A Shared Vision,” which envisions what Montgomery County should look like by the year 2040. Arkoosh said the plan is about creating sustainable healthy communities for the future and the county is doing that by providing recreational opportunities such as the 91 miles of trails it currently has.
“We also know that 95 percent of our county’s population have access to recreational opportunities such as our parks and trails, private and public gyms, community centers, YMCAs and the like,” she said adding these opportunities are important to keeping people healthy and reducing obesity.
Arkoosh said although Montgomery County received high rankings there are still areas of health that need to be improved such as the childhood and adult obesity rates. About 24 percent of the adults in the county are obese. Montgomery County happens to have the least number of obese adults in Pennsylvania but Arkoosh said the number still needs a lot of improvement.
“As a physician, it is critically important that rate go down. That is contributing to our epidemic rate of diabetes and other health related problems that stem from obesity. We just absolutely have to improve that number,” she said.
Spegman said both Chester and Montgomery counties are relatively healthy compared to their neighboring counties but that there’s always room for improvement.
“Every county in the country, however healthy it is or however high it’s ranked; will have something that can be improved upon,” he said.