Cole County is the sixth healthiest of Missouri's 114 counties and St. Louis City, according to a report released today.
The ninth annual County Health Rankings, presented by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, looks at nearly every county in the United States. The rankings are intended to help counties and cities understand what factors influence how healthy their residents are, according to a news release from the organizations.
The institute has existed since 1984. Its mission is to improve health for all using evidence-based approaches to policy and practices at the local, state and national levels. The foundation supports research and programs that target the country's most pressing health issues, according to its website.
The report examines the size and nature of health differences by place and ethnicity in the states. It looks at "health equity." It says health disparities often result from some groups having more access to opportunities and resources over their lifetimes than other groups over theirs. Children in families with higher incomes generally are healthier, live in safer neighborhoods, attend better schools and get better jobs as adults than those without some of those opportunities.
Practices such as payday lending affect the poorest in communities.
Policing and imprisonment, as well as policies that distribute school funding based on property taxes, also affect marginalized communities, according to the report.
Counties' health outcomes within the rankings are measures of how long people live and how healthy they feel. They also look at premature death (or the number of years lost if somebody dies before they are 75).
At sixth-ranked, Cole County is among a cluster of the state's healthiest counties — found in Central Missouri. Also within that cluster are Osage, ranked ninth; Boone, ranked 19th; and Moniteau, ranked 23rd.
Platte County, among the suburbs of Kansas City, is the healthiest county in the state. Other counties in that region are included in the healthiest. St. Charles County, west of St. Louis, is the second healthiest in the state. Meanwhile, St. Louis City is the 111th healthiest community in the state.
The least healthy county is Pemiscot County, in the southeast corner of the Bootheel, according to the data. The Bootheel contains about 20 counties clustered in the southeast part of the state that are some of its unhealthiest.
The difference between the healthiest and unhealthiest counties is measured in several ways.
Platte County lost only 5,200 years per 100,000 people last year (when considering deaths before 75). By the same token, Pemiscot County lost 16,200 years per 100,000 people.
Statewide, Asian or Pacific Islanders lost only 3,200 years per 100,000 people. White people lost 7,600 years per 100,000. Black people lost 12,600 per 100,000.
The report created scores based on health factors including adult smoking, adult obesity, factors contributing to a healthy food environment, physical activity, access to exercise opportunities, excessive drinking, having insurance, number of doctors and dentists available, health monitoring, social factors, physical environment and others.
Cole County was 12th-ranked by those criteria.
The data show, for example, 22 percent of adults in Missouri self-reported last year that they are current smokers. Nationally, 17 percent identify as smokers. Thirty-two percent of adult Missourians self-reported they have a body mass index of 30 percent or greater; the national average is 28 percent. (Body mass index is calculated using a weight-to-height ratio.)
In Missouri, 12 percent of adults reported as uninsured. The national average is 11 percent.
Cole County came in with the 13th highest health outcomes. The outcomes look at premature deaths, poor to fair health, poor physical health days (as self-reported), poor mental health days and low birth weight.
To improve counties' health, the report calls on communities to invest in education from early childhood through adulthood, increase supplemental income for low-income families, make affordable health care available for everyone, and engage youth in communities.