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posted: 3/20/2013 6:07 PM

Suburban counties dip in health rank, but still do well compared to state

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A slight increase in the number of people who say their health is fair or poor, along with an increase in preventable hospital stays, may have helped dethrone Kendall County as healthiest in the state.

After three years being ranked tops out of 102 counties, Kendall dipped to seventh in a list released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Heath Institute.

Kane County, which was ranked eighth last year, fell to 12th. Other collar counties also declined but were still in the top 20 percent overall.

According to, DuPage was the highest ranked of suburban counties at 6th. Other notable rankings were: Lake County at 16th and McHenry County at 17th. Cook county, which includes Chicago, was 78th.

However, in 2012: DuPage was ranked third; Lake was ranked ninth; McHenry came in at fifth; Cook was 71st.

Kane County Health Department officials attributed their dip to changes in factors included in determining the rankings this year and the addition of two criteria: the availability of dentists and drinking water quality.

Health Department Executive Director Barb Jeffers also pointed to a rise in the number of Kane County children living in poverty and a 7-percentage point drop in the local high school graduation rate as primary factors in the county's drop in the rankings.

"Relatively, we do quite well," Jeffers said. "Maybe not year-to-year, but relative to the whole state. What we want to do is really educate people to the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and not just eat fried Twinkies."

Public Health Committee Chairman Monica Silva said some of the factors measured, such as the number of fast food chains in the county, are outside the control of the health department. "When you look at the measurements we can only influence about 40 percent of a person's health," Silva said.

Dr. Amaal Tokars, executive director of the Kendall County Health Department, pointed to 12 percent of people reported they felt they were in fair or poor health in this year's rankings, compared to 8 percent last year. She said people who are unemployed are feeling more stress or not have access to health insurance.

Tokars also said county officials need to encourage residents to take better care of the elderly to avoid preventable hospital stays.

"There is not an enormous amount of change in the (Kendall County) data. What that means is other counties have changed and made some improvement," she said.

Mark Pfister, director of Population Health Services at the Lake County Health Department, also noted that more people felt their health was fair or poor, but those were voluntary responses in the study. He noted that county improved in other measures, such as decreases in both the violent crime rate and motor vehicle crash death rate.

"We're not seeing major changes in the data set," Pfister said. "Our county's still a very healthy county compare to other Illinois counties. We're not seeing the change from nine to 16 as a major failure."

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