CHICAGO – A new report finds the healthiest county in Illinois is Douglas County, in the central part of the state, and the least healthy is Alexander County, at the state’s southern tip.
The report released Wednesday is the fourth annual county rankings from University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It brings together a variety of data on factors such as smoking, obesity, teen birth rates, poverty and access to dentists and primary care doctors.
The rankings are part of a project to help counties take action to improve health. The University of Wisconsin has a website providing guidance to counties and, in February, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded six $25,000 prizes to communities that are organizing to improve health. The winning communities were in five states: California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota.
“Rather than guessing, communities can use the county health rankings and really look at specific drivers of health and outcomes, and make plans and take action to improve health,” said Elissa Bassler, of the Illinois Public Health Institute, a nonprofit group that promotes partnerships to work on health issues such as obesity and physical education in schools.
Nationally, the report shows unhealthy counties have higher rates of childhood poverty compared to healthy counties, a pattern that holds true for Douglas and Alexander counties in Illinois.
In Douglas County, the state’s healthiest, 16 percent of children live in poverty. In Alexander County, the unhealthiest, 48 percent of children live in poverty. The state’s overall child poverty rate is 21 percent.
The rate of low birth weight babies is twice as high in Alexander County compared to Douglas County, and the rate of births to teenagers is more than twice as high. Alexander County has fewer dentists and primary care doctors per capita compared to Douglas County. Fewer women get mammograms in Alexander County and fewer people with diabetes get regular blood sugar screening to help them control their condition.
Following Douglas on the list of the healthiest counties in Illinois are Jo Daviess, Woodford, Mercer and Henry counties.
The five least healthy counties are all in southern Illinois: Alexander, Gallatin, Edwards, Franklin and Pulaski.
Cook County, the state’s most populous, ranked 78th out of 102 counties in the report, with higher rates compared to the state’s healthiest county of child poverty, violent crime, low birth weight, adult smoking and excessive drinking.
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Here's a look at how the counties rank, from healthiest to least healthy:
2. Jo Daviess