Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Health conditions vary widely along Lake Michigan

By CHENQI GUO
Capital News Service

LANSING — The health of counties along the Lake Michigan shore varies greatly, according to a new national study.

For example, Ottawa County ranked second among 82 counties, while Muskegon ranked 64th. Keweenaw County was not included in the study.

Local officials said health disparity is a complicated issue with no simple answers.

“The rankings are a tool for those counties to evaluate their community and determine their priority,” said James McCurtis Jr., public information officer of the Department of Community Health (DCH).

The study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute considers such factors as premature death, health behaviors and clinical care.

However, Rashmi Travis, health officer for Allegan County, said she wishes it were more detailed. Allegan County ranked 14th.

“Some of the data that they obtained for the measurement is from statewide organizations. If they got data from local organizations, the evaluation would be more detailed,” she said.

“Access to insurance and transportation are the problems that need urgent improvement in our county,” she said.

The state as a whole has traditionally fared poorly in national health studies because of high obesity and smoking rates, among other factors.

Shannon Felgner, communications specialist for the Ottawa County Health Department, said, “We are the best in the worst.”

State government cuts in health programs affect the well-being of people who lack health care coverage and access to insurance, according to Sharon Parks, president of the Michigan League for Human Services.

“We’ve been very supportive of the health care reform on a national level and we think that’s going to do a lot for Michigan because more people will have health care coverage,” Parks said.

Emmet County, which ranked sixth in overall rankings but has a higher-than-statewide proportion of smoking adults, is working toward a healthier population.

“We have high hopes that the Smoke Free Law will continue to help reduce the number of smokers in our four-county area and strengthen our campaign for them to quit,” said Liane Hagerman, office coordinator of the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. The department covers Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties.

That law takes effect May 1 and will prohibit smoking in all restaurants, bars and businesses.

Rankings for other counties along Lake Michigan include Grand Traverse, 8th ; Mason County, 44th ; Berrien County, 59th and Manistee, 62nd .

DCH is providing financial resources and other help to counties, according to McCurtis.

“We immunize children in high occurrence areas of HIV and AIDS. We also help staff clinics for counties where people have high rates of diabetes, heart disease and lung cancer,” McCurtis said.

“Since every county has different programs, we work with their priority to help their counties to be healthier,” he said.

Livingston County ranked first and Clare County was at the bottom.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Social Policy

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