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Antrim County slips in County Health Rankings; new measures identify lack of resources

ANTRIM COUNTY - New data released in 2014 rank Antrim County as 60th out of Michigan's 82 reporting counties in terms of its Health Outcomes, which measure the quality and length of the life of its residents. Antrim was ranked 45th in 2013. The county's Health Behaviors ranking also slipped, dropping from 29th place to 45th. Health Behaviors include alcohol and drug use, diet and exercise, sexual activity and tobacco use.

The County Health Rankings, now in their fifth year, are the product of a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. They measure the health of nearly all counties in the nation and rank them within states. Rankings are compiled using county-level measures from a variety of national and state data sources.

But the decline in Antrim County's rankings may be somewhat deceptive, according to Linda Yaroch, Health Officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. Yaroch points out that the rankings for 2014 have been expanded to include several quality-of-life indicators that were not measured in previous years, such as access to mental health providers, access to exercise opportunities and food environment - all of which place Antrim at a marked disadvantage in comparison with other counties that have more of those resources.

"Access to certain kinds of resources, including mental health care and exercise facilities, is limited throughout Northern Michigan, and especially in Antrim County," Yaroch said. "The County Health Rankings now consider more of those limitations, which affects the county's overall ranking." But there's also some good news: Antrim's percentage of children in poverty declined from 30 to 23 percent between 2013 and 2014, remaining below the statewide average. The number of uninsured residents also declined slightly.

Yaroch explained that the County Health Rankings are a call to action, helping to guide efforts toward an improvement of overall county health. Rankings for all counties are posted at www.countyhealthrankings.org. The site also contains Roadmaps, which provide action steps for public health agencies, businesses, educators, philanthropists, investors, nonprofits, local government and healthcare providers to improve the overall health of their communities. "All members of the community affect, and are affected by, these rankings," Yaroch added.

The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. For more information, visit www.nwhealth.org or call (800) 432-4121.

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