From the Kalamazoo Gazette:
A new study suggests that Allegan County is the healthiest county in Southwest Michigan and that Kalamazoo County may be headed toward a healthier future.Allegan County ranked 14th on health outcomes and 15th on health factors. Kalamazoo County ranked 37th on outcomes but considerably higher on health factors, at 13th.
St. Joseph, Cass and Van Buren counties, however, rank in the bottom half of Michigan’s 82 counties in a new County Health Rankings report from the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Allegan may have fared well in the rankings due to its easy access to parks, walking trails and outdoor activities that help keep people healthy. It also has “farm-to-table” food programs to make people aware of healthy food options.
However, the county has lost a lot of money for teen-pregnancy prevention and hasn't been able to do as much outreach as it it would like. It also has a shortage of physicians.
For a community with an urban core, Kalamazoo seemed to fair well compared to other cities in Michigan.
“I was pleased to find us in the top 20 in three of four categories of health factors,” she said. Those three categories were behaviors (smoking, diet and exercise, alcohol use and unsafe sex), clinical care (access to health care and quality of care) and social and economic factors (education, employment, income, family and social support, community safety).Read the full article:
Kalamazoo County ranked 63rd, however, in the category of physical environment, which includes factors such as air quality, access to healthy foods and density of liquor stores.
Buzas said one thing Kalamazoo County should do is look at ways it can improve access to fresh, healthy foods for the whole population.
She cited Louisville, Ky., as an example of what a community can do to boost access to healthy foods. Louisville made sure there were corner stores in downtown neighborhoods “without all the junk food and with lots of fresh food and produce,” she said.
Buzas also emphasized that the responsibility for improving a community’s health goes far beyond local health officials.
“It’s not just the health department. It’s all of us,” she said. “A lot of things play into the health of people. A whole lot of things create a healthy population or a not-so-healthy population.”
Social and economic factors play a big role in a community’s health, and the economic downturn has brought extra challenges, Buzas said. “Some people are worried about just having a roof over their heads and what their next meal will be on the table,” she said.
But Kalamazoo County is working to address those challenges, she said. “You’re seeing people dealing with issues of social equity — housing and poverty and transportation and access to healthy foods — and how those affect your health,” she said.
On a personal level, “the biggest thing we can do to improve overall health is what we eat and being active,” Buzas said. She cited the local Girls on the Run as a successful effort to encourage girls to be physically active.