Douglas County remains one of the unhealthiest counties in Oregon, according to a report released this week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The county dropped one spot in the overall rankings, to 32 out of the state’s 36 counties. Jefferson County was the least healthy in the state, with Klamath, Lincoln and Josephine counties all rated below Douglas County.
The top five healthiest counties in Oregon are Washington, Benton, Clackamas, Hood River and Deschutes counties.
Douglas County Public Health Officer Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer said despite the low overall ranking, the county has made some promising gains in some areas that will be reflected in a few years.
“Bringing (the smoking rate) down will not change premature deaths this year, but it will in 10 or 20 years, and improving the rate of uninsured will not improve clinical care today, but it will in the next 35 years,” Dennenhoffer said.
Smoking rates in Douglas County dropped by one percentage point, from 17 to 16 percent. In 2011, 28 percent of the county’s adults smoked. The uninsured rate also dropped, dipping by four percentage points from 12 to 8 percent.
One of the most significant improvements made in the past year was the county’s children in poverty ranking. Over the past year, the county reduced that rate by more than 25 percent, from 31 percent of children living in poverty in 2017 to 23 percent this year.
“It’s still shocking that (the children in poverty ranking) is still over 20 percent,” Dannenhoffer said. The state ranking is 17 percent.
The report indicates that poverty limits opportunity and increases the chance of poor health. It also said children in poverty are less likely to have access to well-resourced schools and have fewer chances to be prepared for living wage jobs.
Douglas County fared well in clinical care, where it improved by two spots to No. 10 in the state. However, the county dropped four spots to No. 35 in length-of-life.
There were a few surprises in this year’s report.
“Binge drinking is a little bit better over the years, but it is still in a pretty high range, the number of deaths from opioids has actually decreased in the last few years, but the things that really make us low, are the long-term premature deaths, and the other thing is the self-assessment of people’s health,” Dannenhoffer said.
Dannenhoffer said he is happy to see the Blue Zones Project-Umpqua in the community and thinks that will be a big help with the obesity, physical activity and healthy diet area.
The complete rankings are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org.