St. Clair County on health rankings: We're trying

News-DemocratMarch 27, 2014 

Mikie Sellers and Alex Quirin of Belleville talk about the importance of physical fitness.

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St. Clair County slipped in health rankings, but it continues its pursuit to become the healthiest county in the nation.

The county ranked 89 out of 102 for overall health in 2014, down one notch from last year, according to the national County Health Rankings and Roadmaps -- a collaborative report from the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

At the first health policy summit in November 2009, county leaders set a vision for St. Clair County to become the healthiest county in the nation.

"This is not going to be an overnight thing," said Mark Peters, director of community health with the St. Clair County Health Department.

The ranking is determined by factors such as access to health care, poverty and health habits.

Madison County ranked 76th for overall health, up from 83rd last year.

For those who think St. Clair County's goal to be the best in the country sounds pie-in-the-sky, Peters said, "At least we're attempting."

He continued, "As with any good vision, we wanted to create a social movement around health and working together."

Peters said it can take 10 years to see improvements in chronic disease and three to five years to mobilize a population around health activity changes.

He was happy to see improvements in ranking for reducing tobacco use (7 percent improvement) and increasing healthy diets and exercise (22 percent improvement).

"We have a coalition in place," he continued. "We are watching something like this and we'll have some highs and some lows."

Some of those lows include ranking 95th out of 102 for overall social and economic factors, 99th for unsafe sexual practices and 99th for community safety.

For family and social support, St. Clair ranked 101st, which measured adults without emotional support and children in single-parent households.

Peters said that statistic shows these are community-wide issues. He said schools cannot just be for learning and churches not just for praying.

"If we can learn to work together, it really is that collective impact," he said. "It's almost like a call to action for any and all health and human service organizations to say this isn't just a health issue, it's a socioeconomic issue."

For 2011, St. Clair County ranked second to last in health behaviors -- a ranking that alarmed some leaders. This year, St. Clair ranked 88th for health behaviors, which includes things like smoking, obesity, teen births, physical inactivity, access to exercise opportunities, excessive drinking and sexually transmitted infections.

Kevin Hutchison, executive director for the St. Clair County Health Department, said in a news release: "We've known for some time that our county faces challenges. It's the principle reason why the Health Department convenes regular health assessment and planning activities among the members of the St. Clair County Health Care Commission."

The top ranked county in the state for overall health was Woodford and the lowest rank county was Alexander.

For more information about the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.

Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at mhasenstab@bnd.com or 618-239-2460.

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