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Originally published March 30, 2011 at 10:51 a.m., updated March 30, 2011 at 1:23 p.m.
TOPEKA A new interactive, online report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Public Health Institute ranks the health status of almost every U.S. county, including 98 of the 105 in Kansas.
The update on what has become an annual report showed that Riley County was the healthiest in Kansas, followed by Johnson, Mitchell, Coffey and Ellis in the top five for overall health.
The five least healthy Kansas counties, according to the report, were Cherokee, Montgomery, Wyandotte, Bourbon and Allen.
Seven western or central Kansas counties with low populations were not included in the rankings: Greeley, Hodgeman, Jewell, Lane, Stanton, Wallace and Wichita.
The rankings were based on 13 health factors ranging from diet and exercise to community safety and household education and income. It also factored in health outcomes based on quality and length of life.
Riley County, the state's healthiest according to the rankings, is the home of Manhattan and Kansas State University.
The county reported higher rates than the state averages for uninsured adults, excessive drinking, sexually transmitted infections and children living in poverty but lower than Kansas' average rates for premature deaths, poor or fair health days and single-parent households.
Riley County also had significantly lower rates for teen births and motor vehicle deaths. Ninety percent of residents had a high-school degree and 77 percent reported some college. Higher education rates generally coincide with better incomes and better health.
Douglas County, home of the University of Kansas, ranked 8th in the report.
Ellis County, another of the top five counties, is home of Fort Hays State University.
Many, if not most, of the counties that ranked poorly in last year's report continued to show badly in this year's, including several in the southeast, which for decades have been among Kansas' poorest counties.
And most counties, 75, didn't change at all, according to Gianfranco Pezzino of the Kansas Health Institute, which collaborates on disseminating information about the rankings.
Pezzino said "dramatic changes," year to year in a county would be out of the ordinary and aren't expected.
He said the most important thing about the report is that it provides a tool for people in communities to sit down and discuss how they might make their counties healthier.
Kansas counties, overall, fall in about the middle nationwide as regards health status, he said, though the state still has higher than average rates of smoking, obesity and deaths due to motor vehicle crashes.
Cherokee County, which ranked last, is in the state's extreme southeast corner bordering Missouri and Oklahoma. Its largest town is Baxter Springs, which has a population of about 4,200 people.
The county had higher than state average rates of smokers and people who were obese. It reported only one primary care provider per 2,353 residents versus the state average of one provider per 857 residents.
Its number of years lost due to premature or preventable deaths was more than twice the national benchmark and almost 50 percent greater than the Kansas average.
Four of the state's five lowest ranked counties were in the southeast. The fifth county also in the bottom rung was Wyandotte, home of Kansas City, Kan.
As a result of last year's rankings, Mayor Joe Reardon has formed a task force that is developing ways to improve the county's overall health.
Those efforts are now being viewed as a model for other counties by groups such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which recently sent a film crew to document what is taking place there.
There also is a similar, multi-county initiative underway in southeast Kansas.
The 2011 county rankings are available here.
The 2009 county rankings are available here.
Download the HD version of the 2011 County Health Rankings Video Report for use in media reports and presentations (right click + "save link as," 252 MB .mov file).
Determined to move Wyandotte County, Kansas out of last place in the County Health Rankings, Mayor Joe Reardon and community partners are working together to improve the health of the county's citizens. Produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.