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Clark County not fit as a fiddle in health rankings report

Updated April 9, 2017 - 8:54 pm

How much does where you live affect your health?

Quite a bit, according to a new report that ranks the overall health of counties around the country and offers roadmaps on where they need to head to help residents lead longer, healthier lives.

“This is our attempt to look at the broad array of factors that impact community health,” said Jerry Spegman, who works with County Health Rankings to influence policy in communities based on the report’s findings.

Take Clark County, for example.

According to the County Health Rankings, Nevada’s most-populous county generally lands in the middle of the pack among the state’s 17 counties in most categories.

It’s fourth in length of life, eighth in health behaviors, seventh in clinical care and 12th in “quality of life” – an attempt to rate how healthy people feel while they’re alive.

 

But contained within those broad categories are both good news and warning signals, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who compiled the rankings.

On the positive front, Clark County residents have a better chance of avoiding an early demise — defined by researchers as any death before age 75 — than they did when data was first collected in the late 1990s. According to the report, the county lost about 6,800 “years of potential life” per 100,000 people on average from 2012 to 2014.

They also can take comfort in the fact that they now fare better than Nevadans as a whole in the category. That’s one reason Clark retained its overall ranking as the sixth-healthiest county in the state — a spot it has held for the past two years.

Signs of ‘difficulties ahead’

But Spegman said the gap between the current state of health in Clark County and the outlook — as measured by health factors in the report — has been stagnant for several years.

Clark County currently ranks 12th in the state in health factors, Spegman said, adding, “If our numbers hold up … that’s a sign of more difficulties ahead.”

Those health outlook rankings were determined by a mixed bag of indicators in four main categories: health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.

Health behaviors tracked predicable factors, such as adult smoking and adult obesity, which affect 17 percent and 28 percent of county residents, respectively. Those numbers are on par with the rest of the state.

Dr. John Packham, director of policy research for the Office of Statewide Initiatives at the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine, said social and economic factors, such as education and the prevalence of violent crime, hurt Clark County in this category.

At 72 percent, the county’s high school graduation rate is a tick below the state average, though it is trending upward.

But the county ranks well above the state and national averages in violent crime, at 706 incidents per 100,000 people. By contrast, top-ranked Lincoln County had only 44 incidents on the same scale.

Bottom of the barrel

The low point for Clark County in the rankings is the physical environment category, where it finished 17th in the state.

Traffic, air pollution and housing issues contribute to Clark County’s dead last ranking in the category, which reflect the fact that living in a city isn’t the most healthful lifestyle, Spegman said.

“Physical environment is the curveball in all of this,” he said.

Dr. Joseph Iser, district health officer for the Southern Nevada Health District, said that Clark County also gets ranked lower than it otherwise would because of the transient nature of its population.

“I think it means (some residents) don’t have a medical-care home,” Iser said, adding that it can be difficult to keep up with prescriptions and checkups when someone doesn’t have an established health-care provider.

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.

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