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County one of Illinois’ healthiest

Report ranks McHenry County 17th with high marks in health behaviors

Published: Monday, March 25, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, March 25, 2013 12:07 p.m. CDT

WOODSTOCK – The fact that McHenry County is among the healthiest counties in Illinois doesn’t surprise Patrick McNulty.

He’s the public health administrator for the McHenry County Health Department and has seen many residents make early health evaluation and early prevention a priority, such as by taking part in programs offered by the department.

“We have a very well-educated population in McHenry County,” McNulty said.

McHenry County is the 17th healthiest county in Illinois, according to a report that used a variety of health factors to evaluate counties across the United States.

The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, conducted by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, gave McHenry County high marks in its “health behaviors” and “social and economic factors” categories, citing low levels of premature death, low levels of children in poverty, and a high percentage of high school graduates compared with the 101 other counties in Illinois.

“McHenry County looks like it’s doing pretty well,” said Angela Russell, an associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin. “It’s among the healthiest counties in Illinois.”

Although McHenry County ranks as one of Illinois’ healthiest counties, it fell out of the top five for the first time in the four years the rankings have been published.

It previously had ranked in fourth or fifth place.

Russell said McHenry County residents shouldn’t be alarmed in the drop in rank, as it’s likely the result of other counties doing well, rather than McHenry County underperforming.

The study found that, compared with the state average, McHenry County had higher rates of smoking and higher rates of people who could not see a doctor because of cost.

Other factors that hurt the county’s ranking include the fact that 46 percent of the restaurants in McHenry County are fast-food establishments, and one-quarter of county residents are obese, the report found.

But McNulty said residents should feel “pretty good” about their county’s overall ranking.

“We’ve maintained our status at the upper end of the rankings compared to other counties in the state,” he said.

McNulty said the county needs to continue to give attention to obesity and smoking rates, as well as access to transportation, such as biking, that leads to fit residents.

Russell credited low violent crime rates, a high rate of education and the fact that only 14 percent of adults are uninsured for the county’s high ranking.

Russell also noted that McHenry County’s premature death rate is one of the lowest in the nation.

The county rankings are particularly revealing because of the range of factors it evaluates, Russell said. The report examined the overall healthiness of counties by looking at more than just smoking and obesity rates.

Access to recreational facilities, violent crime rates and inadequate social support are among the factors in ranking the counties.

“This helps people think about county health not just in terms of disease or whether you go see a doctor,” said Elissa Bassler, CEO of the Illinois Public Health Institute. “It looks at what else contributes to health.”

Bassler said that community leaders across the county, from the health sector to education, should use the data to improve the health of McHenry County.

McHenry’s surrounding counties also ranked high in the report. Lake County ranked 16th, Kane County ranked 12th and DuPage County ranked sixth, according to the report. Cook County ranked 78th.

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