Thursday, April 5th, 2012
By Shelley Grieshop
Area scores high in wellness
Mercer, Auglaize rank among top 10 counties in state health study
  Local residents are making good choices to stay healthy.
The 2012 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps study released Tuesday placed Mercer County sixth and Auglaize County 10th for overall health among Ohio's 88 counties.
Both have consistently improved since the annual rankings were first released by the University of Wisconsin in 2010. Last year, Mercer County scored ninth; Auglaize County was 12th.
To complete the study, the university's Population Health Institute collects data on mortality, morbidity, health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.
Tessie Pollock of the Ohio Department of Health said counties ranked at the top can take pride because competition is stiff.
"You have to remember that they're all ranked against each other and that makes it really hard," she said. "They're all trying to do better. It's about who's getting there faster; it's a long journey. It can take time to see some results."
One of the areas that Auglaize County residents need to work on is adult obesity. According to the study using data from 2009, 35 percent of adults in the county are obese compared to 30 percent statewide. The national benchmark or goal is 25 percent.
The report showed 28 percent of Mercer County adults are obese.
Anne Larger, community outreach coordinator for Grand Lake Health Systems based in St. Marys, said many of the programs she offers are based on obesity because it's a gateway to other problems.
"It causes Type 2 diabetes, heart problems ... so many different health issues," she said.
She facilitates programs such as the Road to Fitness and the Grand Lake Health Challenge and Family Challenge to encourage healthy eating and exercise, she said.
Joyce Jansen, a registered nurse and director of nursing for the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department, said the county health rankings are a good indicator of the community's needs.
"What we need to do is start asking questions," she said.
She wants to find out why screenings for diabetes and mammography are low (62 percent compared to the state average of 66 percent). Jansen wonders if it is due to the high ratio of primary care physicians per population - 1-to-1,510 in Mercer County and 1-to-1,140 in Auglaize County. The statewide ratio is 1-to-859 and the nationwide goal is 1-to-631.
"After our questions are answered, we need to address a possible solution to make the community safer and healthier," she said. "We are heading in the right direction, but we must remain diligent in addressing the critical issues facing our community."
A quality education also seems to be linked to good health. Mercer County averages a 97 percent graduation rate, while Auglaize County has a 95 percent rate, based on 2008-2009 statistics. Across Ohio the rate is 78 percent.
The Grand Lake area scored well on numerous other issues such as physical activity, teen birth rates, children in poverty and access to healthy foods.
"Having affordable fresh produce definitely makes it easier to make good choices," Pollock said.
Low unemployment rates also play a role, she said. Joblessness often creates stress that can lead to unhealthy behaviors like smoking or violent crime.
Mercer County consistently earns the lowest or near lowest unemployment rate in the state, with Auglaize County not far behind.
Other area counties and their health rankings are Shelby County, 18th; Van Wert, 27th; Darke, 29th; and Allen, 42nd. Delaware County in central Ohio earned the No. 1 spot, while Lawrence County at the southern tip of Ohio was ranked the worst.
The full rankings report can be accessed at countyhealthrankings.org.
- Some of the sources tapped for the study include the National Center for Health Statistics, Medicare/Dartmouth Institute, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. EPA and Department of Agriculture.
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