The overall health of Pierce County ranks in the bottom third among all counties statewide, according to a national health survey.
Pierce County’s position for 2014 —25th out of 39 counties in Washington—has remained relatively unchanged since the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation began the national ranking of counties by state in 2010.
The rankings “make it clear that where you live, work and play determines how healthy you are,” said Dr. Anthony L-T Chen, director of health for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. “This annual report on our community health is a signal that all community partners need to reinforce our current collaborative efforts to address specific health issues that impact Pierce County residents, as well as the underlying problems of poor health, such as education and income levels.”
Pierce County fared worse than the state average in 26 out of 34 health indicators. Examples of worse health factors and outcomes among Pierce County residents include:
• Premature deaths.
• Poor mental health days.
• Smoking among adults.
• Food environment index (an index of factors that contribute to a healthy food environment)
• Chlamydia infections.
• Births by teenage mothers.
• Ratios of primary-care physicians and dentists to population.
• High school graduation rate.
• Violent crime.
The results of the survey, which were announced in late March, “mirror data from our recent community health assessment that show Pierce County residents are not as healthy as other places in Washington ,” said Cindan Gizzi, assessment manager for the Health Department.
While the department and community partners have taken steps to improve the health of the county and its communities over the years, according to Gizzi, there is more that can be done “to help our residents lead healthier lives.”
To combat Pierce County’s poor overall health status, the Health Department has focused on ongoing initiatives such as the prevention-focused Community Transformation Partnership, which has funded community-based efforts such as healthy eating and physical activity, active transportation, tobacco-free living, clinical and community health and health equity. Community partners lead efforts such as Graduate Tacoma! to address the underlying social and economic issues.
In addition, in 2012, the department initiated the Community Health Improvement Plan, a long-term collaborative strategy to address major community health problems. Completed in partnership with Franciscan Health System, MultiCare Health System and University of Washington-Tacoma, it will provide valuable information on the county’s top health priorities in order to address them as effectively as possible. Community partners can use the information for their strategic planning, budget preparation, collaboration, grant writing and other efforts. The recently completed the assessment portion of the plan included input from community members, including community leaders and diverse populations.
In the 2014 County Health Rankings, Pierce County scored the lowest in the health behaviors category, which accounts for smoking rates, adult obesity, access to exercise opportunities, a food environment index and sexually-transmitted infections. For example, the county had the highest rate of chlamydia infections in the state as of the2011 national data.
In addition, the social and economic factors that affect health outcomes are also worse in Pierce County compared to the state. For example, the high school graduate rate is worse, violent crime rate is worse and the percent of residents with some college or higher is lower than the state average.
The County Health Rankings measure the health of nearly every county in the nation. Published online at www.countyhealthrankings.org, the rankings help counties understand what influences how healthy residents are and how long they will live. The rankings look at a variety of measures that affect health, such as high school graduation rates, access to healthy foods, rates of smoking, obesity, and teen births. The rankings are unique in their ability to measure the overall health of each county in all 50 states.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care in the United States.