A new report ranking the healthiness of nearly every county in the nation paints a bleak picture of life in Clark County.
Overall, the county was ranked 72nd among Ohio’s 88 counties in the fourth annual County Health Rankings released this week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
When compared to the state as a whole, Clark County has a higher percentage of adults who smoke and are obese. There’s a higher percentage of children living in poverty here and more teen moms. More people die in car crashes, and 67 percent of all restaurants locally are fast-food places — a higher percentage of burger joints than in even the state’s unhealthiest county, Scioto County.
“I wish there was something we could do more immediate to see a five-point jump next year,” Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said. “We just can’t do that.”
The report, which Patterson saw in advance, is of little surprise. Last year, Clark County was ranked 71st in Ohio.
“We already knew we needed to do something,” Patterson said.
Champaign County was ranked 47th in this year’s ranking of 88 counties, up from last year’s 52nd-place finish.
Geauga County, in northeastern Ohio, was ranked as the state’s healthiest this year. Whether it can be considered a barometer of overall health, 49 percent of restaurants there are fast-food establishments.
“We’re doing a lot of things,” Patterson said. “To move the needle, we may have to do less things but do those things more intensely.”
The Clark County Combined Health District will release its own, more precise, community health assessment in April, Patterson said. More than the new national report, that will help create a new community health plan.
After seemingly years of bad rankings like this, he hopes to see improvements in Clark County’s health ranking within a decade.
“There aren’t too many places to go but up,” he said.
But, despite their best efforts, a lot of it comes down to personal choices, he said.
Patterson noted that many former public health threats, including polio and smallpox, have been eradicated.
“At the same time,” he said, “we’re now seeing a trend where the people living now may not live as long as their parents lived. And a lot of that is based on personal choice.”
He also noted that many of the report’s 25 measurable factors pertain to poverty, including even the amount of fast-food restaurants.
“That is specifically linked to the socio-economic levels within the community,” he said.
As a result, the local health district has taken an interest in economic development, Patterson said.
“A rising tide floats all boats,” he said. “We’re all about the rising tide.”
Like other public health advocates nationally, there’s also an increased interest in becoming involved in public policymaking.
“We need to be involved more and more in all kinds of places,” Patterson said.
With health department input, for example, an existing road widening project could include enough space to accommodate bicyclists, and would be cheaper than having to go back and redo the road later.
“Public health is everywhere,” he said.
Springfield resident Kevin Burton sees the direct correlation between the county’s health ranking and the lack of good jobs locally.
“Good jobs usually have good benefits,” Burton said. “We’ve got a nice, new hospital, but people can’t afford it.”
Other residents, like retired Springfield firefighter Dave Storer, were more surprised by Clark County’s poor ranking in the new health report.
“There’s a lot of fitness places,” he said. “It seems like there’s a lot to do in Springfield with the parks and bike path.”