Health Rankings Drop for Winnebago County

WINNEBAGO (WIFR) – Winnebago County has been ranked as one of the least healthy counties in the state.

In a report released today from the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, we ranked 82nd out of 102 counties. Experts point to a higher than average number of smokers and an ongoing obesity epidemic.

However, there is some good news for the rest of the Stateline. Boone, Stephenson, Ogle and Lee counties are all in the top fifty healthiest counties.

WINNEBAGO COUNTY (WIFR) -– Winnebago County’s overall health ranking fell from last year, moving from the third quartile in health outcomes to the fourth quartile in Illinois (82 out of 102 counties), according to the annual County Health Rankings, released today, Wednesday, March 20, 2013, by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

This is the fourth consecutive year of County Health Rankings, representing the most comprehensive review of its kind by ranking the overall health of nearly every county in all 50 states by using a standard method to measure health outcomes and contributing factors. This release ranks each county within its State on how healthy people are, how long they live and a number of contributing factors that affect health, such as smoking, obesity, binge drinking, access to healthcare, education levels, air quality, and income indicators. “With this knowledge, we can take steps to improve our weakest factors, which will contribute to improving the health of our residents,” said Winnebago County Public Health Administrator, Mike Bacon.

“No single sector alone can solve the health challenges in a community. Everyone has a role to play. The Rankings show that things like having a job, a good education, access to healthy foods, and a safe place to live affect how healthy we are. It’s about bringing members of the community together to take action to prevent disease and improve health,” added Mike Bacon.

In August of 2012, the Illinois Department of Public Health awarded the We Choose Health multi-year Community Transformation Grant to twenty-one agencies statewide, which included WCHD’s proposal being one of the top five funded awards. The Winnebago County Health Department (WCHD) initiative includes nine funded partners whose goal is to implement chronic disease prevention by working together using a multi-faceted approach to improve the health of our community. This annual release of county rankings is a tool to remind us that where we live, learn, work and play greatly influences how long and how well we live. It is important to note however, in all communities health falls short of what it could be,” said Mike Bacon, public health director.

Where Winnebago County compares well to others counties in Illinois is in clinical care, like the ratio of primary care providers and dentists to population, preventable hospital stays and diabetic screening. Where we do not compare well is in the area of health behaviors such as smoking, obesity, sexually transmitted infections, violent crime rate, teen birth rate, drinking water safety, and limited access to healthy foods. Socio-economic factors, such as high school graduation rates, unemployment, children in poverty, and children in single parent households, are also below the statewide mean.

While it is important to get updated information each year, it is difficult to measure changes from one year to the next. What is important however is that action is being initiated to improve health. To that end, local stakeholders are working together through the Healthy Community Study of the Rockford Health Council in nine workgroups. Each of these workgroups have developed intervention strategies to address contributing factors to a specific range of health problems from access to care to basic needs, to chronic disease, oral health, health equity, maternal and child health and violence and public safety,” said Mike Bacon. The Rankings have served to highlight many of the same health and social and economic discrepancies that the Healthy Community Study has underlined.

The Rankings, available at, includes a snapshot of each county in Illinois, with a color-coded map comparing each county’s overall health ranking. Researchers used 29 indicators in five categories to assess the level of overall health or “health outcomes” for Illinois by county: the rate of people dying before age 75, the percent of people who report being in fair or poor health, the numbers of days people report being in poor physical and poor mental health, and the rate of low-birth weight infants (see attached summary tables).

The Winnebago County Health Department has prioritized improving maternal and child health in its latest Community Health Improvement Plan, “Creating Conditions in Which People Can Be Healthy…Together We Can”, March 2012. These interventions target improving birth outcomes and reducing smoking and sexual transmitted infections in pregnant women. This effort requires close coordination and partnering with health care and other community-based organizations.

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