Healthy People in a Healthy Environment

2016 County Health Rankings

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has released its 2016 national County Health Rankings that reflect health status in Harford remains stable and continues to be among the best in the state.

The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps is compiled annually by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The report provides a an easy-to-use snapshot of the health of nearly all counties in the nation that includes rankings within states on 30 factors that impact health. Information is broken down into two major categories. “Health factors”, in which Harford ‘s rank slipped from sixth in 2015 to ninth in 2016 among Maryland’s 24 local health jurisdictions, represent what influences the health of the county.  In the other major category called “health outcomes, representing how healthy a county is, Harford’s ranking rose all the way from tenth in 2015 to fifth this year.

Now in its seventh year, the report helps illustrate that how long and how well people live depends on multiple factors including rates of smoking, education, and access to healthy food, while also helping to lay the groundwork for health improvement efforts at state and local levels.  Speaking to the strides the county has made, Harford County Health Officer, Susan Kelly references Harford’s robust Local Health Improvement Process (LHIP) launched in 2011 to identify the County’s most critical health needs. Ms. Kelly likewise emphasized the perpetuation and efforts of its key workgroups in tobacco use, obesity and behavioral health.  “Through our Local Health Improvement Coalition, consisting of stakeholders within health care, county government, businesses, community leaders and private citizens, we are in a unique position to understand how public health impacts our lives, to collaborate and to explore ways to improve population health.”

Ratings among Health Behaviors criteria varied when compared to State averages, but generally reflected improvements in most areas, which contributed to the overall improvement in ranking.  Adult smoking dropped from 18% in 2015 to 15% in 2016, while the adult obesity rate dropped two percentage points in 2016 to 18%. Rates of physical inactivity improved in matching the state average.

Similarly, in the categories of factors that contribute to a healthy food environment, access to exercise opportunities, alcohol-impaired driving deaths, sexually transmitted infections and teen births, Harford’s rates also improved and were better than State averages. The county retained its ranking of seventh overall with respect to length of life, where rates of premature death were once again significantly lower than the state average. The lone exception in which the county’s rate was slightly worse than in 2015 was the in the category of excessive drinking.

Composing half of the “health factors” category, Harford achieved RWJ report rankings of sixth and eighth best in the state in “health behaviors” and “clinical care”, respectively.  Clinical care takes into consideration factors of “Access to Care” and “Quality of Care.” In the category of “Uninsured” defined as “the percentage of the County population under age 65 without health insurance”, Harford’s rate of only 8% not only surpassed the State average of 12%, but also was better than the rate of 11% among the top performers in the nation. However, the ratio of the population to primary care providers, dentists and mental health providers is consistently higher in Harford than the State average.

In other two health factors categories of “Social and Economic Factors” and “Physical Environment”, rankings fell to ninth and seventeenth, respectively, accounting for the overall drop in ranking for the entire category.  Physical Environment rankings include such factors as air pollution, drinking water violations, severe housing problems, and driving alone or commuting long distances to work.

While the RWJ Health Rankings and associated “Roadmap” summarize much of a local jurisdiction’s health profile, Ms. Kelly cautions they do not provide a totally clear nor comprehensive conclusion about health status in Harford or elsewhere. “Although the information contained in these annual reports is useful for targeting issues and motivating strategic planning, there are other influences that affect those rankings. Much depends on the health decisions and behaviors of Harford County residents. Looking only at our rates and ranking versus other Maryland counties, it appears that Harford is relatively healthy by comparison. However, the data also points to areas where more in-depth analysis is helpful.  We recognize there are disparities relative to race and ethnicity and other challenging issues left with which to deal.”

To view this report, click here.