Some parts of the Kansas City area stand out as great, healthy places to live, but others don’t.
A new report that ranks the health of counties nationwide identifies some stark contrasts in different parts of the Kansas City area. This valuable study should help local civic, political and health leaders develop solutions.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation worked with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute on the 2016 County Health Rankings. The report shows the current health of residents in a county and, through comparisons, how that might improve in the future.
Some of the areas the report examined included adult smoking, obesity, physical activity, access to exercise opportunities, excessive drinking, unemployment, income inequality, air pollution, teen births, people with no health insurance, preventable hospital stays, education attainment, child poverty, violent crime and injury deaths.
In the seventh year of the report, it was right to expand its examination into residential segregation of blacks and whites as “a fundamental cause of health disparities in the U.S.”
Deaths due to drug overdoses also came under scrutiny. It’s hard to overlook the 79 percent increase in drug overdose fatalities since 2002. And insufficient sleep seems to be an all-too-American thing. That was factored into the rankings as having “serious negative effects on health.”
Platte County best in Missouri
Out of 114 Missouri counties and the city of St. Louis, Platte County ranked No. 1 in the state for quality of life and No. 2 for health outcomes.
Clay County was No. 5 in the state for quality of life and No. 4 for health outcomes.
Each is in the Northland with growing populations, expanding residential developments, good health care institutions and providers, plenty of retail outlets, parks and safe neighborhoods, plus good roads, schools and libraries.
In addition, Cass County ranked No. 8 in Missouri for quality of life and No. 7 in health outcomes.
Sandwiched in between is Jackson County. It fell into the bottom half of Missouri’s counties, ranking 77th in quality of life and 74th in health outcomes.
The rankings are not shocking. Segregated, unsafe neighborhoods have been long-standing fixtures of Kansas City’s urban core, with struggling schools and the flight of hospitals, businesses and people. Unemployment, the percentage of people without health insurance and income inequality are all higher in Jackson County than in Platte, Clay and Cass counties.
The child poverty rate of 24 percent in Jackson County is far above Platte County’s 9 percent, Clay County’s 12 percent and Cass County’s 14 percent.
Johnson County tops in Kansas
For the Kansas side of the metropolitan area, the differences were depressingly stark.
Johnson County ranked No. 1 in quality of life and in health outcomes among Kansas’ 105 counties.
Wyandotte County ranked at the very bottom for quality of life in Kansas and in health outcomes. The county until recently had lost population and has struggled in the areas of health care providers and housing, and for decades suffered from segregation, blockbusting and redlining.
Adult smoking in Wyandotte County of 23 percent was nearly twice Johnson County’s rate of 13 percent. Unemployment, the percentage of people without health insurance and income inequality were all higher in Wyandotte County than in Johnson County.
The child poverty rate in Wyandotte County was 35 percent but just 8 percent in Johnson County. The ratio of people to primary care physicians is 2,360 to 1 in Wyandotte County compared with 830 to 1 in Johnson County.
But knowing where the deficiencies are should help U.S., state, county and city officials direct needed resources to enable people to enjoy healthier lives.
Raising the age from 18 to 21 for legal sales of tobacco products and e-cigarettes was a big step in the right direction for Kansas City and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, Kansas City, Kan., and other area communities in joining the Tobacco 21|KC campaign.
Getting rid of vacant housing and focusing resources on the urban cores of the two cities also should yield great results with more people and businesses moving back to the urban core.
Efforts to reduce violence, homicides and childhood obesity, along with expanding universal preschool and improving the public schools to get children college and career ready, will benefit the health of this region.
Reducing segregation and bridging income, racial and ethnic gaps should be this area’s focus, too.
The report shows the positives and the deficiencies. Residents need to hold elected officials, business, faith and community leaders accountable to ensure that concrete improvements happen.