Counties Run Health Gamut

WHEELING – Most counties in the Northern Panhandle are healthier than average when compared to other counties in the state, according a report released Wednesday.

A report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin researchers ranked the state’s 55 counties using more than two dozen factors such as smoking, drinking, obesity, premature deaths, and other areas including education, access to health care and unemployment.

Those components are heavily weighted in the survey because of their impact on health and access to care.

Pleasants County, West Virginia’s third-least-populated county with just 7,600 residents, ranked number one in health outcomes. The ranking was a jump for the county, as it came in seventh in last year’s study. Monongalia County, which used to hold the top spot, ranked second this year, followed in third by Pendleton County. Doddridge, Jefferson, Hampshire, Upshur, Tucker, Berkeley and Ritchie counties completed the top ten.

Locally, Ohio County ranked 11th, while Marshall County came in 13th. Other Northern Panhandle counties include Wetzel, 28th; Brooke, 22nd; Hancock, 15th; and Tyler, 19th.

“With Ohio County, over the years our health factors have been doing better. We’ve actually moved up quite a bit since (these reports) started in 2010,” said Howard Gamble, Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department administrator.

Ohio County was ranked 13th in health outcomes for 2010. Another category the report lists to measure influences to produce healthy outcomes – health factors – proved to be another solid area for Ohio County, as it ranked fourth this year compared to seventh in 2010.

Although pleased with this year’s ranking, Gamble said there is still a lot Ohio County can do to improve.

“It takes a lot of agencies, not just public health,” he said about which groups’ efforts influence county health outcomes.

Since last year’s report, Marshall County has expanded clean air regulations that restrict tobacco use in certain areas.

“We’re holding our own,” Marshall County Health Department Administrator Ronda Francis said.

Marshall County also promotes healthy living through its We Can Be Fit program that focuses on weight loss, diet, nutrition and exercise. The program is for Marshall County residents ages 18 and older.

Another ranking of notice was Kanawha County, as the state’s largest county ranked 37th on the list.

On the negative side, McDowell County ranked last among all 55 counties for the fifth straight year that the report has been released. The 10 counties at the bottom of the list remain unchanged from last year.

Other counties with the poorest health were Wyoming, Mingo, Logan, Boone, Mercer, Wayne, Lincoln, Fayette and Summers – all in the southern part of the state.

Compared to their southern counterparts, northern counties tend to have lower percentages of premature death, adult smokers, residents in poor physical or mental health and fewer children living in poverty, the report found.

The group also released results for the state of Ohio, where local counties were below average when compared to the rest of the state.

Health outcome rankings for Eastern Ohio counties include Belmont, 54th, Monroe, 50th, Harrison, 71st, and Jefferson, 80th out of 88 counties.

Elsewhere in the state, Geauga is Ohio’s healthiest county, followed by Putnam County in northwest Ohio and Delaware County in the Columbus area. Scioto was named the least healthy, followed by Lawrence and Adams, also in southern Ohio.