The western collar county has ranked in the top 6 healthiest counties every year the report has been issued by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute beginning in 2011.
The report measures and ranks health outcomes and health factors in counties across America. This year’s report also factored in data about COVID-19 deaths in 2020.
“Health outcomes are the snapshot of today’s health: how long we’re living at a community level and what our self-reported health well-being is,” said Sheri Johnson, UW Population Health Institute director and co-director of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. “Health factors are things like income and education, family social support – things that predict future health.”
Data is collected from a range of years and sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, as well as the U.S. Census Bureau.
Of Illinois’ 102 counties, DuPage County topped the list in both overall health outcomes and factors, while far southern Alexander County was ranked last in both. Cook County ranked 41st in health outcomes and 66th in health factors.
In addition to the rankings, the report highlights each county’s strengths and areas for improvement.
“We know in counties that are among the highest rankings not everyone in the county has the same opportunities,” said Johnson.
In DuPage County, 99% of the population lives “reasonably close” to a park or recreational facility, while 98% of residents in Cook County do. Only 23% of DuPage County adults are physically inactive, which is slightly above the statewide average of 25% of residents, according to the report. (In Cook County, 26% of adults reported being physically inactive.)
Areas for improvement in both DuPage and Cook counties include adult obesity and smoking, as well as improvements to housing. The report found both counties experienced severe housing problems, defined as the percentage of households with at least one of the four following housing problems: overcrowding, high housing costs, or lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities.
This year’s report emphasizes the importance of economic security for residents of all communities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that exposed and exacerbated racism and economic exclusion.
“These conditions existed prior to the pandemic,” said Johnson. “It’s really important to focus on them as we move toward a just recovery that centers economic security as a key to health.”
One of those issues the report focuses on is child care.
“The pandemic highlighted for many people the importance of having affordable and accessible child care as a key to community health,” said Johnson. “Many of the folks who were labeled essential workers were challenged by the availability and accessibility of child care, and even people who work in the child care system are often not earning a living wage for that local area.”
Child care is no longer considered affordable if it exceeds 7% of a household’s income, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ benchmark.
“Affordable child care sets kids on the long-term path to academic success, which is related to length and quality of life, and gives adults responsible for kids the confidence to do just that,” Johnson said.
In Illinois counties, the cost of child care accounts for 16% to 39% of household income. Nationally, on average, 25% of household income is spent on child care.
“There’s a need for system-level change,” Johnson said, adding things like child care subsidies, paid family leave and paid time off can help.
For more information about county rankings, visit the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps website.