TRAVERSE CITY — Leelanau County is the state’s healthiest county, while Kalkaska County is sixth from the bottom.
“Where we live and where we work and where we play really does matter to our health,” said Jenifer Murray, health officer for the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department.
Murray also said that good health is related to more than just clinical care. Other factors play a strong role, including low stress, a good job and enough time and money to exercise and fix a healthy meal.
The state-by-state county ranking was released this week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Health Institute in a national media teleconference.
A county’s "health outcome" is evenly weighted by mortality — the years of life lost due to premature death — and morbidity, which is measured by poor physical and mental health and poor birth outcomes. Kalkaska’s low ranking owes, in part, to a high teen birth rate of 48 per 1,000 females, triple the rate of Leelanau County.
Leelanau and Kalkaska counties are both rural, but their socioeconomic numbers tell deeply contrasting stories of prosperity and poverty.
Leelanau County’s unemployment is the lowest in the five-county region at 8.5 percent, while Kalkaska, once an oil and natural gas boom region, struggles with 11.3 percent joblessness. Leelanau County leads the five-county area with a median income of $51,268. Kalkaska is the lowest at $38,053.
“If someone is unemployed or underemployed, they are going to have riskier behaviors,” said Linda Van Gills, health officer for District Health Department No. 10, which includes Kalkaska. “They don’t have access to health care; it’s just a real challenge.”
On the positive side, Kalkaska and Michigan, overall, are seeing a significant decline in teen pregnancy, Van Gills said.
“We also had good access to recreational facilities, walking trails and good immunization rates,” she said.