The annual County Health Rankings report released by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute yesterday showed Thurston County moving up the rankings to eighth out of Washington's 39 counties when it comes to community health. Thurston County has steadily moved up in the rankings since 2012, when Thurston County was ranked the 14th healthiest county in Washington.
The County Health Rankings project grades counties across the country on how healthy people are today and measures factors that influence how healthy the community will be in the future. Looking at factors outside of the doctor's office, the project collects data from counties on critical aspects of our community, such as education rates, income levels, and access to healthy foods, as well as access to medical care, that influence how long and how well people live.
Thurston County Board of Health Chair and county commissioner Sandra Romero noted that the work of the Thurston Thrives community health initiative that the county launched two years ago appears to be gaining momentum. "Moving up six places in just three years is a real accomplishment, and it shows that we're serious about improving community health," said Romero. "I think the Thurston Thrives initiative has really shown a light on this concept of community health in the last two years."
Romero continued, "The Thurston Thrives group has spent the last two years developing road maps for tackling big issues like education, economic opportunity, access to healthy food, and having a clean and safe environment—and we can see how all of these big issues have an impact on the personal health of our residents. I'm eager to take the next big step with Thurston Thrives and turn our road maps and strategies into action and move up even higher in the rankings."
The Thurston Thrives initiative is a partnership of the Thurston County Board of Health, public health professionals, and local community leaders and organizations, all with the mission of improving community health. To that end, Thurston Thrives volunteers developed a set of strategies over the last two years to address and improve key indicators for community health that go beyond access to health care. As the Thurston Thrives initiative moves into the next phase, community leaders will promote specific actions and measure the results of those efforts to make progress towards improving the county's community health.
The Thurston Thrives goals include making healthy food more accessible to more county residents, increasing the number of living wage jobs for county residents with fewer residents living in poverty, and reducing the number of residents who spend 50 percent or more of their household income on housing, among other community health goals. Many of the Thurston Thrives community health goals address the key indicators that are measured each year by the County Health Rankings project.
The County Health Rankings show a focus on health behavior and the physical environment could make a difference and improve Thurston County's community health—two areas where Thurston County has ranked lower than other Washington counties in years past.
Thurston County ranked 22nd in 2015 for health behaviors, which means the community could do better in areas like curbing the use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances. That's slightly better than the ranking of 23rd in 2014, but down from a high of 19th in 2013.
Thurston County ranked 18th in 2015 for measures that describe the physical environment, which means community health would improve with more affordable housing and more commute options for residents other than driving alone, among others. That's down from a ranking of 16th in 2014.
To learn more about the County Health Rankings project and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org
. For more information on Thurston Thrives, visit www.ThurstonThrives.org