Shaping up the county

A new study ranks the health of Hamilton County’s population low in several aspects compared to the rest of Iowa.

A local official is hoping the study serves as a catalyst for action. Hamilton County Public Health Director Shelby Kroona said the study addresses many gaps in the health of residents. That includes higher than state average numbers for adult obesity, teen births, low birthweight and smoking. The County Health Rankings study also looked at factors that could impact health such as long commutes to work.

In this most recent County Health Rankings study, Hamilton County ranked 57th in the health outcomes category. That category includes factors such as premature death and poor physical health days. Kroona said the health outcomes ranking includes very few factors. However, she said high local rates of teen pregnancy and low birthweight contributed to the below average ranking.

In a move that surprised Kroona, the rankings study was split into another major category that included many health factors. That portion of the study included factors such as adult smoking, obesity, access to clinical care and more. Several factors in that category, such as the socioeconomic status of county residents and child poverty rates, also went hand in hand.

“You would expect our county, sort of, to score a little lower in socioeconomic because we still have high unemployment,” Kroona said. “Some of the other things they look at in there are children in poverty and our numbers over the last few years have been trending upwards.”

As a result of those factors, Hamilton County was ranked 85th out of Iowa’s 99 counties in health factors. Last year, without the splitting of the health factors and health outcomes categories, Hamilton County ranked 64th overall in the state.

Kroona said it’s important for those who read the study to understand that it does not present a complete picture of the county and may not be entirely up-to-date. Still, the rankings present a challenge for Hamilton County officials and residents to live healthier lives.

“These gaps show the need for continued investment in public health,” Kroona said. “We’ll use the rankings in conjunction with other community health assessment and planning efforts to find the best way to address our challenges.”

Discussion on how to improve the health of Hamilton County residents has already begun. Kroona and others met in February and March to discuss health issues as part of the Healthy Hamilton County Coalition. Kroona said the coalition is looking to address many of the health behaviors and physical environment factors the study names.

“At our last planning meeting we talked a lot about physical activity and how we can get people to come participate at Fuller Hall or the swimming pools,” Kroona said. “I think we’ll be excited to see these numbers because it just supports the need for that group to keep moving forward. Together, I think we can really affect some of this data.”

For more on the County Health Rankings study, visit their website at