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ETSU: County health rankings report indicates positive trend for Northeast Tennessee

Rex Barber • Mar 20, 2013 at 4:11 PM

Residents of Northeast Tennessee counties are on a path to improved health, especially those in Washington County, according to East Tennessee State University’s public health dean discussing data in an annual county health rankings report.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s annual assessment of health outcomes and factors in almost every county in the United States has found Washington County leading the Northeast Tennessee region and making significant progress.

The 2013 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps ranked health outcomes in Washington County 21st among the 95 counties in Tennessee, up from 31 in the state a year ago.

The assessment ranked Sullivan County 43rd in state in health outcomes, Unicoi County 44th, Hawkins County 56th, Carter County 61st, Greene Court 65th, Johnson County 70th,, and Hancock County 93rd.

Williamson County was ranked first in the state in overall health outcomes for the second consecutive and was also ranked first in health factors.

Health outcomes are a measure of how healthy a county is currently while health factors reflect the steps a county is taking to become healthier in the future, said Randy Wykoff, dean of public health at ETSU.

“Health Factors are the things like smoking and diet and exercise that we are doing to be healthier,” Wykoff said. “And we’ve seen for a number of years now that our health factors are better than our health outcomes, and that’s still true this year. Most of the counties in our region are better for health factors. But what that means is over time we expect to see health outcomes getting better, because if we’re better, you know if our rates of smoking or our economic opportunities and environmental measures and so on are better, then over time we would expect to see our health outcomes getting better. And I think what we’re seeing this year is consistent with that.”

Washington County ranked 4th in state in health factors, while Sullivan County ranked 13th, and Unicoi County 20th, placing them in the top 25 percent statewide. Hawkins and Carter placed in top half of Tennessee counties, with health factor rankings of 31st and 41st respectively.

Wykoff did not put too much emphasis on the exact ranking number, rather, he thinks the fact that health factors are improving is the important news.

“I’ve said many times I’ve never been anywhere where there are more people interested in improving health than in this area,” he said. “You know, we’ve got good health systems that deliver quality care. We’ve got an academic health science center at ETSU with medicine, pharmacy, nursing, public health, clinical rehab. We’ve got community organizations and businesses focused on health. So I think... the idea is if folks work together, these are problems we can address, and I think we’re starting to see that happening.”

Wykoff said some of the problems in Tennessee in general are physical inactivity and high smoking rates.

“I think we still see that majority of the threats to our health are behavioral issues like smoking and obesity and then some of the social issues like getting more people through school, increasing economic opportunities, things like that,” he said. “What I like about the County Health Rankings is they let local Chambers and business leaders and others identify the challenges that exist in communities.”

The rankings are online at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

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