Blair falls in county health rankings

Adult smoking, obesity highlighted as areas of weakness

When the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin first published their county health rankings in 2010, Blair County was 63rd among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties for “health outcomes” — the broadest category, comprising length and quality of life.

Since then, Blair has improved every year, working its way to 45th in health outcomes last year.

This year, Blair went backward for the first time — ending up six places worse than last year, at 51st among the counties.

However, this year’s rankings came with a warning from the survey organizations, according to Coleen Heim, director of the Health Blair County Coalition, which uses the rankings to help guide its efforts at making improvements to the health of local residents.

At a webinar last week, attendees learned that comparisons with prior years may not be valid because of changes made with survey indicators, some of which were omitted, some of which were added; and with data sources, some of which have changed, Heim said.

Given that these changes applied to all counties, they could have skewed not only a county’s absolute performance on the survey, but its performance in comparison to other counties, potentially doubling the effects on ranking, she said.

The survey organizations suggested that county coordinators focus on the individual indicators that comprise the survey, Heim said.

Key among those for Blair County are adult smoking, obesity and children in poverty, which have been objects of attention for years with the coalition, Heim said.

Adult smoking and obesity are both highlighted as areas of weakness — “areas to explore” — in the 2019 survey.

Adult smoking in Blair is currently at 17 percent, which is about 7 percent better than it was several years ago, Heim said — although no better than last year.

Dropping that 7 percent is “pretty good,” Heim said.

The availability of “a ton” of smoking cessation classes has helped, Heim said.

Adult obesity is at 30 percent, which is 2 percent better than last year.

Children in poverty is at 19 percent, also 2 percent better than last year.

Areas of strength for Blair County, as highlighted in the survey, comprise the county’s percentage of uninsured, just 6 percent; its ratio of primary care doctors to residents, 1,230:1; and its unemployment rate, just 4.8 percent.

Heim plans to present the historical variations for the county’s indicators at a coalition meeting so the group can plot improvement strategies.

Blair County’s decline in health outcomes comprises a worsening by seven places to 53rd among counties for length-of-life and an improvement of one place to 36th for quality-of-life.

Blair declined in “health factors” by five places, to 37th, among Pennsylvania counties.

Health factors comprise rankings for health behaviors, in which Blair improved eight places; clinical care, in which Blair declined 13 places; social and economic factors, in which Blair improved four places; and physical environment, in which it declined 16 places.

The rankings — which apply to almost every U.S. county — help point out factors associated with location that influence the health of residents, information that can help encourage improvements, according to information published by the ranking organizations.

Bedford County’s ranking for health outcomes im­proved 10 places to 14th.

Its length-of-life rank im­proved by 26 places to 24th and its quality-of-life rank worsened by one spot to seventh.

Bedford’s ranking for health factors improved one place to 23rd.

Bedford County’s areas of weakness, as cited in the survey: adult smoking, adult obesity, ratio of primary care doctors to residents, incidence of flu vaccinations and percentage of those who have attended college. Its areas of strength: percentage of those who drink excessively, incidence of alcohol-related driving deaths, percentage of uninsured, percentage of mammography screenings, percentage of high school graduates and number of social associations.

Cambria County’s ranking for health outcomes declined one place to 65th. Its length-of-life rank worsened by four places to 66th and its quality-of-life rank stayed the same at 64th. Cambria’s ranking for health factors improved three places to 56th. Its areas of weakness: adult smoking, adult obesity, mammography screening, flu vaccinations, unemployment, children in poverty and injury deaths. Its areas of strength: percentage of uninsured, ratio of primary care doctors to residents, percentage of high school graduates and number of social associations.

Centre County’s ranking for health outcomes stayed the same at second among Pennsylvania counties. Its length-of-life rank remained first among the counties and its quality-of-life rank remained fifth.

Centre’s ranking for health factors remained fifth.

Its areas of weakness: adult smoking, adult obesity, excessive drinking and severe housing problems. Its areas of strength: physical activity, incidence of teens giving birth, percentage of uninsured, availability of primary care doctors, mammography screenings, flu vaccinations, percentage of high school graduates, percentage of those who attended college, rate of unemployment, percentage of children in poverty, percentage of children in single-parent households, percentage of injury deaths and percentage of those who drive alone to work.

Clearfield County’s ranking for health outcomes improved one place to 35th. Its length-of-life ranking worsened by two to 31st and its quality-of-life outcomes improved by one place to 44th. Its ranking for health factors remained at 48th. Clearfield’s areas of weakness: adult smoking, adult obesity, flu vaccinations, college attendance and unemployment. Its areas of strength: percentage of uninsured, availability of mental health providers and percentage of those receiving mammography screenings.

Huntingdon County’s ranking for health outcomes worsened nine places to 39th.

Its length-of-life ranking fell eight places to 26th. Its quality-of-life ranking worsened one place to 55th. Its ranking for health factors worsened eight places to 55th. Huntingdon’s areas of weakness: adult smoking, adult obesity, availability of primary care doctors, incidence of flu vaccinations, attendance at college and the unemployment rate. Its areas of strength: percentage of uninsured, incidence of preventable hospital stays and percentage of those receiving mammograms.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

COMMENTS