Blair County had its best-ever showing in the health rankings — 40th among the state’s 67 counties — starting in 2009 at 63rd.
That doesn’t mean all is well, however, according to Coleen Heim, director of the Blair County Healthy Coalition, who spoke about the results of the most recent triennial assessments from the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute.
Levels of obesity, smoking and mental health problems continue to be issues in Blair, with obesity not improving and smoking and mental health worsening, possibly due to COVID, according to Heim at the coalition’s annual meeting Friday in Hollidaysburg.
Many people lack the time or motivation to stay active and lack the money to buy healthy foods, according to survey responses that generate the assessment results, Heim said.
Still, it’s encouraging that Blair, with the strength of participating organizations, finished fifth out of 92 jurisdictions in a Spark America Fit City Challenge, behind the big cities of Cleveland, Akron, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, Heim said.
And it’s encouraging to see collaboration between agencies and community leaders on issues of concern in the assessment, with a willingness Friday among participants from social service and health care agencies to sign on to task forces and task forces, Heim said.
“There’s a diverse group of leaders willing to come together.” Heim said.
At the broadest level, the assessment considers two measures: health outcomes and health factors.
For both, Blair is in the second quartile among Pennsylvania counties — closer to the least healthy than the healthiest.
For health outcomes, the assessment takes into account length of life and quality of life.
For life expectancy — or premature deaths — Blair ranks 47th best among Pennsylvania counties, with 8,200 years of life lost before age 75.
For quality of life, Blair ranks 29th best among counties.
Quality of life takes into account poor and fair health, days of poor physical health, days of poor mental health, and low birth weight. For all of these categories except low birth weight, Blair is slightly worse than the Pennsylvania average.
For health factors, the assessment considers health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment.
For health behaviors, one of the factors, Blair ranks 51st best among counties. Health behaviors include smoking rates, obesity, food availability, physical activity, exercise opportunities, drinking levels, alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths, sexually transmitted infections, and teenage births. The adult smoking rate of 23% stands out unfavorably, which is 8 percentage points worse than “Best American Performers”; and a 36% adult obesity rate, which is 6 percentage points worse than the top performers in the US. Also unfavorably visible are physical inactivity, which is 8 percentage points worse than the national top performers, and access to exercise opportunities, which is 41 percentage points worse than the national top performers.
For clinical care, Blair ranks 41st best among counties. Clinical care includes fees for insurance coverage, primary care physicians, dentists and mental health providers, preventable hospital stays, mammograms and flu shots. 41% stand out unfavorably for mammographic screening, which is 11 percentage points worse than the national best performers; and 45% for flu shots, which is 10 percentage points worse than the top national performers.
7% of the uninsured stand out favorably, just 1 percentage point from the top national performers; and the level of primary care physician coverage, which is actually better than the highest national performance level.
For social and economic factors, Blair is 25th best among Pennsylvania counties. Social and economic factors include high school graduation rates, college attendance, unemployment, children in poverty, income inequality, children in single-parent families, social associations, violent crime, and deaths from injuries. The unemployment rate of 8.7% stands out unfavorably, more than double the rate for the top national performers.
The number of social associations stands out favorably, slightly better than the high level of national performance.
For physical environment, Blair is 34th best among Pennsylvania counties. Physical environmental factors include air pollution rates, drinking water violations, severe housing problems, and driving alone, especially on long commutes.
Among other local counties, Center ranks second in the state overall, Huntingdon ranks 29th, Bedford 39th, Clearfield 56th and Cambria 62nd.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.