A new study ranking the overall health of every county in the United States, ranks Barry and Lawrence counties in the mid-range for many health factors in the state. A number of negative factors were found in Barry County in significantly higher quantity than in Lawrence County.
The study was prepared by the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Each county was ranked on how healthy people are and how long they live. They also are ranked on key factors that affect health, such as smoking, obesity, binge drinking, access to primary care providers, rates of high school graduation, rates of violent crime, air pollution levels, liquor store density, unemployment rates and number of children living in poverty.
Other studies have ranked states on health factors, but this is the first time researchers have examined multiple factors that affect health in each county in all 50 states.
In health factors, Barry and Lawrence counties ranked fairly similarly. Health factors created a ranking by combining four larger categories: health behaviors; clinical care; social and economic factors; and physical environment. Barry County ranked 43rd out of 115 counties in the state, and Lawrence County ranked 34th.
In health outcomes, the two counties showed broad differences. In ranking the length of life and the quality of life together, researchers produced a measurement that placed Barry County at 102nd in the state and Lawrence County at 53rd.
Researchers found such disparities were not that unusual between close locations.
A breakdown was provided over the factors that contributed to the rankings.
Four factors were measured for calculating unhealthy qualities in the population:
* Poor or fair health: Barry 24 percent, Lawrence 20 percent (16 percent state average).
* Days per year of poor physical health: 6 in Barry, 4.1 in Lawrence (3.7 statewide).
* Poor mental health days per year: 6.5 in Barry, 4.7 in Lawrence (3.6 statewide).
* Low birthweight: 8 percent of births in Barry, 7 percent in Lawrence (8 percent statewide).
Health outcomes also looked at the number of people likely to die sooner than their life expectancy. Based on the same population size, Barry County could anticipate 3.2 percent would die prematurely, and 2.8 percent in Lawrence County, compared to a state average of 2.7 percent. Numbers were based on actual totals compiled from 2004 to 2006 by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Six health behaviors were combined into the health behaviors measurement. Both counties had 30 percent of their adult population classified as obese, compared to 28 percent statewide. Adult smoking was nearly identical at 27 and 26 percent for Barry and Lawrence counties, with a state average of 25 percent. The motor vehicle crash death rate was also close: 38 in Barry and 35 in Lawrence.
Binge drinking was at 11 percent for Barry County and 6 percent for Lawrence, compared to 16 percent statewide. The teen birth rate was higher in Barry County, 78 per year compared to 62 in Lawrence County, compared against a state average of 45. The rate of Chlamydia, one of the most common venereal diseases, was 11 percent higher in Lawrence County than in Barry, but still 60 percent lower than the state average.
Looking at clinical care, Barry County had 110 primary care providers, 10 percent more than the state average. Lawrence County had 78 primary care providers, 20 percent under the state average.
The number of uninsured adults was 3 percent higher in Barry County than in Lawrence, and Barry County was 6 percent higher than the state average. Both counties had the same rate of screenings for diabetes, 4 percent better than the state average.
Hospice use was slightly higher in Barry than in Lawrence County. Both were very close to the state average.
One of the biggest differences turned up in the violent crime rate. In Barry County, 1.42 out of 1,000 people could expect to experience violent crime in a year's time. In Lawrence County, the number rose to 2.14 people in 1,000. The state average is 5.25 per 1,000.
In most social and economic factors, the two counties are very similar. In education, 80 percent in both have graduated from high school (81 percent statewide). Barry County had 11 percent of residents graduate from college while Lawrence County had 12 percent (22 percent statewide). Children in poverty were calculated at 27 percent in Barry and 26 percent in Lawrence (18 percent statewide).
Single parent households made up 8 percent of the children's population in both counties (9 percent statewide). Unemployment was listed at 5 percent in both counties.
Looking at the physical environment, the study found a significant difference between the availability of supermarkets and access to healthy foods. In Barry County, 55 percent of the population had access, better than what 90 percent of Missourians have. Access in Lawrence County was only 27 percent. The state average is 35 percent.
Both counties had a greater density of liquor stores than the state average. While Lawrence County had a slightly larger number, Barry County still had double the state average.
Both counties were deemed to have two days a year of high particulate matter in the air, double the state average.
According to researchers, people who live in healthier counties tend to have higher education levels, are more likely to be employed, have access to more healthcare providers and have more access to healthier foods, parks and recreational facilities.
The top-ranked county for health outcomes was Platte County, north of Kansas City. The lowest was Pemsicott County in the Bootheel.
The top-ranked county for health factors was St. Charles County, north of St. Louis. The city of St. Louis had the lowest ranking.
Most of the research used to create the profile was collected between 2005 and 2008. Education, income and household statistics came from the 2000 Census and subsequent sampled updates.
"All of us--health officials, government and business leaders, educators and media--must play a role in transforming our communities," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "County by county, we need to pursue programs and policies that help all Americans live longer, healthier lives."