DuPage ranks as healthiest county in Illinois; Lake, McHenry crack top 10.

DuPage County residents live in the healthiest community in the state. In fact, suburban collar counties took three of the top 10 ratings, according to new health rankings released this week.

Karen Ayala, executive director of the DuPage County Health Department, said the results are "especially gratifying" because it's the first time DuPage has ranked No. 1 in both key measures of the rankings - Health Outcomes (how healthy we are) and Health Factors (how healthy we can be).

"The health department places a high priority on positively and effectively influencing the factors that affect the health of our residents," Ayala said.

This is the seventh year the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin crafted the rankings. Data for the rankings comes from nearly 20 sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI and Census estimates.

Each year the foundation includes new factors and methodology that can dramatically change where a county ranks in relation to its peers, and remove the ability to maintain a strict apples-to-applies comparison from year to year. For this year, data on housing segregation among blacks and whites, drug overdose deaths and insufficient sleep patterns influenced the rankings.

DuPage Health Department officials said several recent initiatives help boost the county's ranking.

Those include an unwanted-medicine collection program; the DuPage County Prevention Leadership Team, a coalition working to reduce youth substance use and increase mental wellness; and the DuPage Narcan program, which trains police officers on how to administer the opiate overdose reversal drug Narcan.

"We realize that within those programs, as well as many others, our success is due to the strong partnerships and collaborative approaches within DuPage County," Ayala said. "These rankings are not the result of a single agency's efforts, but rather the health care safety net systems that exist throughout our communities."

Kane County

The county took a step back from its goal of becoming the healthiest community in Illinois by 2030.

Kane ranked 13th out of 102 Illinois counties. Last year, Kane County rated fifth best. The slip is a reminder to all local officials it is important to consider the health consequences of all decisions that impact people, said Barb Jeffers, executive director of the county health department.

"These rankings aren't directed at the public health department," Jeffers said. "It's everybody's responsibility to understand the factors that impact the health rankings. It's about education, our dropout level, our unemployment, our median income."

Jeffers was pleased Kane County rated second in the state in the health behaviors category. It measures adult smoking, drinking, exercise and sexual habits. However, the county's ratings fell in the social and economic factors category, which accounted for 40 percent of the overall score. That category includes educational attainment and income inequality. Only 59 percent of Kane County residents between the ages of 25 and 44 have at least some college education.

McHenry County

Trending is a different direction is McHenry County, which moved from 13th last year to become the fourth healthiest county in Illinois.

The county boasts a 92 percent high school graduation rate, well above the statewide average of 83 percent. And only 11 percent of McHenry residents younger than 65 lack health insurance. The state average is 15 percent.

Public health Administrator Michael Hill also pointed to statistics indicating 95 percent of local residents have adequate access to locations for physical activity as reasons for the high rating.

"I think that this county is ranked highly because its people and elected officials are sensitive to environmental issues and there is a very active public health and health care community in our county," Hill said.

"If you look at the report, the only things that really drag us down from ranking even higher is the number of people commuting long distances and commuting in cars alone. The people of our county, the county leaders and our health care community can, and should, be proud of this ranking."

Lake County

Officials attributed their rise to 7th place in the rankings to years of efforts. They put particular emphasis on decreasing rates of sexually transmitted diseases, helping residents find health insurance and reducing the number of visits to emergency rooms caused by substance abuse.

Mark Pfister, director of prevention for the county health department, said Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion all saw 17 percent decreases in gonorrhea rates because of the efforts. The rate of uninsured residents plummeted to 6 percent. And police officers saved the lives of 45 people who had overdosed on opioids.

"We are pleased that after several years of working with our partners to address factors that influence people's health, better health outcomes are occurring in some areas of Lake County," Pfister said. "While we are ranked among the healthiest counties in the state, we recognize that there is still work to be done in coordination with community partners. The rankings help us to identify areas for improvement and develop strategies that promote the health of our communities."

Staff writers Robert Sanchez, Lauren Rohr and Mick Zawislak contributed to this story.

2016 county health rankings

1. DuPage County

2. Kendall County

3. Monroe County

4. McHenry County

5. Jo Daviess County

6. Woodford County

7. Lake County

8. Putnam County

9. Menard County

10. Henderson County

<b>Other notable counties:</b>13. Kane County

14. Will County

64. Cook County

SOURCE: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 2016 county health rankings; <a href=""></a>

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