Annual County Health Rankings for Kentucky show many shifts in the middle echelons, not much at the top and bottom

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The sixth annual County Health Rankings report shows little change in Kentucky’s top and bottom rankings, but there were a few surprises, with several counties showing up in the top 10 for the first time.

Marshall County was one, ranking 10th in both health outcomes and health factors, the rankings’ two main measures. This is an improvement from last year’s 26th in outcomes and 19th in factors. Bullitt County also moved into the top 10 for the first time this year, ranking sixth for outcomes, up from 27th.

Health outcomes include length and quality of life. Health factors contribute to outcomes and include four categories: health-related behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and the county’s physical environment. The rankings for each county are relative to other counties in the same state.

“Communities use the rankings to help identify issues and opportunities for local health improvement, as well as to garner support for initiatives among government agencies, healthcare providers, community organizations, business leaders, policy makers, and the public,” says the report.

The County Health Rankings are a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

2016 Health Outcomes – Kentucky

The report is a general categorization of a county’s health status. The rankings are arranged in quartiles, or four numerical classes, to de-emphasize the small statistical differences among closely ranked counties. Kentucky has 120 counties, in quartiles of 30.

The bottom quartile comprises almost entirely Appalachian counties, the only exception being Fulton, in the Mississippi Delta at the state’s western tip.

Oldham and Boone counties continued to be the top two for health outcomes in the state, as they have been since the rankings began. Spencer County, ranked third, spent the last two years ranked 11th. Shelby and Scott counties are ranked fourth and fifth in outcomes. All are suburban, formerly rural, counties in the state’s three major metropolitan areas.

The bottom 10 counties in health outcomes are all rural. They saw little change from last year, with Harlan (117) and Wolfe (119) being the only new additions. The bottom five counties in outcomes are Floyd, Harlan, Perry, Wolfe and Owsley (which has been ranked last for health outcomes every year, except 2013, when it ranked 102nd).

Counties that saw the greatest improvements in health outcomes were Livingston (LG on map), moving up from 70th to 35th; Trimble (TI), moving up from 56th to 27th; and Crittenden (CD), moving up from 64th to 38th. All these counties moved into a higher quartile with these ranking changes.

Morgan County, which for years had health outcomes far better than its health factors, saw the greatest decline in the outcome rankings, moving from 48th to 76th. It was followed by Russell, which fell from 61st to 88th; and Bracken, which dropped from 46th to 72nd. Russell County remained in the same quartile as last year, but the other two counties shifted to a lower one.

2016 Health Factors – Kentucky

The top five counties for health factors have all been in the top 10 before. They include Oldham, Boone, Spencer, Woodford and Campbell counties; Campbell had dropped last year to 12th.

The bottom five counties for health factors are Magoffin, Wolfe, McCreary, Breathitt and Bell, all in the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield.

Counties that saw the greatest improvement in health factors were Clark, moving from 53rd to 29th; Gallatin, going from 89th to 67th; and Crittenden, rising from 86th to 64th. Only Clark, just east of Lexington, moved into a higher quartile.

Counties that saw the greatest declines in health factors were Taylor , dropping from 30th to 58th; Butler, falling from 66th to 94th; and Union, dropping from 46th to 73rd. Each of these counties dropped into a lower quartile. Butler, Fulton and Carroll were the only non-Appalachian counties in the bottom quartile.

The report identifies “meaningful gaps” that exist between the best and worst Kentucky counties and suggests that policymakers look at these gaps as they search for ways to improve the counties’ health, including: adult smoking, adult obesity, uninsured rates, preventable hospital stays, education levels, unemployment, children in poverty and income inequality.

The report says, “Every year, over 2,800 deaths in Kentucky could be avoided if all residents in the state had a fair chance to be healthy.”

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