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Washtenaw County Ranks First in Health Factors for Fifth Consecutive Year

YPSILANTI, Mich., March 26, 2014 – Washtenaw County ranks first among Michigan counties in “health factors” according to the 2014 County Health Rankings released today. This is the fifth anniversary of the Rankings, and the fifth consecutive year that Washtenaw County has received the top ranking for health factors.

The County Health Rankings are based on the idea that no single thing makes us healthy or unhealthy – rather it is a variety of factors such as physical activity, access to healthy food, education and family and community support combined.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have a solid foundation for building healthy communities in Washtenaw County. There is tremendous work happening and strong partnerships in place,” says Acting Health Officer Ellen Rabinowitz. “At the same time, we know we’re not there yet,” she continued. “The Rankings and our own local data can help us fully understand what supports or undermines health in our communities and what we can do about it.”

There are two rankings for each county, one for health factors and one for health outcomes. Health factors include our health behaviors, access to clinical care, social and environmental factors and our physical environments. Health outcomes include how long people live (mortality) and to what degree they report feeling healthy (morbidity). Washtenaw ranks sixth among Michigan counties for health outcomes.

Washtenaw’s overall high rankings provide good information about how we are doing locally compared to other counties and states. Within the county, however, there are significant health differences when we look at outcomes according to where people live, how much money they earn, their level of formal education or their race/ethnicity. For example, while infant mortality rates have improved overall, black babies under one year still die at almost twice the rate of white babies in Washtenaw. Similarly, how long you live may depend on where exactly you live within the county: The average age of death in Sylvan, York and Ypsilanti Townships starts at 64 years. In contrast, it is over 76 years in Bridgewater Township, Saline and Ann Arbor.

Washtenaw’s own source of county health data, called the Health Improvement Plan (HIP), illustrates these disparities in health. Taken together, the Rankings and HIP can help us develop innovative approaches to support health – across our local communities and, often, outside the doctor’s office. In September 2013, Washtenaw County Public Health released “Building a Healthier Washtenaw: Community Health Assessment and Community Improvement Plan.” The report uses local HIP data, the Rankings model of understanding health (depicted below) as well as other sources. It tells the story of our health in Washtenaw, identifies resources and describes work with community partners to set priorities for improving health – especially where disparities exist.

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