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Illinois county health rankings released
Cook County residents among state's unhealthiest

Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Chicago Tribune
by Julie Deardorff

Kendall and DuPage Counties have the healthiest residents in Illinois, according to a new report that ranks each of the nation's 3,000-plus counties on various health factors.

The unhealthiest people in the state reside in southeastern Illinois, in Alexander, Hardin and Pulaski Counties.

McHenry and Lake counties ranked in the top 10 in terms of healthiest Illinoisans. But those who live in Cook County are among the state's unhealthiest, in part because of air pollution and social and economic factors. 

The results in Illinois and the rest of the country reflect a well-known trend: “The least healthy counties tend to be poor and rural, and the healthiest ones tend to be urban or suburban and upper-income,” Lauran Neergaard of the Associated Press reported.

Kendall and DuPage Counties both ranked No. 1 or No. 2  in the state in terms of  "health outcomes" and "health factors." Health outcomes include premature death, low birth weight and poor physical or mental health days. Health factors refer to things that influence outcomes, such as behavior (smoking, binge drinking, obesity), access to care, the unemployment rate, childhood poverty, air quality and access to healthy foods.

Compared with the rest of the state, both Kendall and DuPage Counties have low childhood poverty rates, low unemployment, high access to quality care and fewer people engaging in risky behavior, such as smoking, binge drinking and unsafe sex.

Alexander, Hardin and Pulaski, all located in or near the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, had higher rates of childhood poverty, unemployment and unsafe sex and lower rates of access to quality care than their northern counterparts.

Cook County, which includes the city of Chicago, ranked 59th of 101 counties according to "health factors" and 81st in terms of outcomes.

The snapshots raise a chicken-and-eggish question: Are residents unhealthy because their community is poor? Or does the community become unhealthy because it's where people with high-risk behaviors can afford to live?

The answer is a little of both, said Dr. Patrick Remington of the University of Wisconsin, which started ranking its state's counties in 2003 and co-authored the new 50-state report with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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