ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County ranks 16th out of 62 New York counties in the latest County Health Rankings report.
At Monday's Human Services Committee meeting, Essex County Department of Public Health Director Linda Beers told supervisors that the rankings compare counties using several major health indicators, including mortality rates, obesity rates and other quality-of-life factors.
"What we're trying to achieve is mortality - the length of life - by increasing it, and morbidity - the quality of life we have while we're alive," Beers said.
Other upstate counties fared well in the latest rankings: Saratoga is fifth, Warren is 12th and Lewis is 17th. Clinton and Franklin counties rank in the middle of the field, at 26th and 36th, respectively. St. Lawrence County ranks 57th, and Hamilton County is 58th.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute started compiling the county health rankings four years ago. The goal, according to www.countyhealthrankings.org, is to "help communities create solutions that make it easier for people to be healthy in their own communities."
The website says that "much of what influences our health happens outside of the doctor's office." The rankings include those factors.
Beers said the data in the rankings "demonstrates how much social and economic conditions, environment, health behaviors and access to clinical care all play a role" in creating healthy communities. Socioeconomic status, for example, is often a strong indicator of how healthy someone will be, she said.
Essex County outperforms the state average when it comes to things like premature death, the percentage of people in poor or fair health, and the smoking rate among adults. The adult obesity rate in Essex County of 28 percent is higher than the state average of 25 percent, as is the number of people who engage in excessive drinking: 19 percent for the county and 17 percent for the state.
Essex County also does well when it comes to other factors that are indirectly tied to health. The county's high school graduation rate is 86 percent, nine percentage points higher than the state average. Fast food restaurants account for fewer of the total restaurants in the county than statewide, and Essex County residents have better access to recreational facilities.
"Every one of these items is addressed by some public health campaign, by some public health prevention," Beers said. "What we do behind the scenes is what makes those numbers look like what they do today."
Beers said community health assessment is a key part of her department's mission. She said her department will use the data in the rankings as it prepares a regional community health assessment, which will be combined with several other health reports and submitted to the state by November.
"It's called the Prevention Agenda," Beers said. "We are in the middle, right now, of picking new Prevention Agenda items with our partners, our stakeholders, and those are our two hospitals."
Some supervisors asked if the data in the rankings can be broken out at a town-by-town level. Public health department spokeswoman Jessica Darney-Buehler said zip-code-level data is tough to come by, although Beers said she's offered to visit town boards to present the data and answer questions.
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.