OUR OPINION: Health rankings reflect what we refuse to do

By NEMS Daily Journal

Several Northeast Mississippi counties scored strongly measured against other state counties in the University of Wisconsin Population Studies Institute’s newest health outcomes survey, a weighted analysis of factors contributing to the health profile of counties nationwide and in Mississippi.
The outcomes measure has been released annually in some form since 2003.
This year, DeSoto, Lamar and Lafayette counties ranked 1, 2, 3 statewide, and Oktibbeha (6), Union (9), Pontotoc (11) Lee (12) and Lowndes (15) also ranked in the top 15.
While there’s merit in landing among the top rankings among peers, Mississippi remains one of the two or three least healthy states, so what’s been cited should be placed in context.
The institute’s researchers, its website explains, used four broad categories – health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment – to measure its outcomes. Further, sub-categories like tobacco, alcohol use, income and 10 others are factored based on existing reliable and authoritative sources of data.
The institute noted in its supporting literature that its methods “are based upon a review of the literature and expert input,” representing one way of combining all the factors.
In sum, the report affirms a stream of evidence built over a long time that general prosperity, education, individual choices, environmental facts, plus social and economic behaviors push constantly on broad measures of health.
Measuring outcomes for whole counties probably could produce results that differ every year from individual municipalities within counties.
The results of this study provide no ground for anyone in Mississippi standing on laurels.
The United Health Foundation’s notes on Mississippi’s ranking of 49th among the states offer a compelling summary of what we do that holds us back: “Mississippi ranks last in the U.S. for sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and diabetes. More than 800,000 adults live a sedentary lifestyle, almost 780,000 adults are obese and almost 280,000 adults have diabetes in the state.”
A side graphic shows that Mississippi ranks worst or nearly so for diabetes, smoking and obesity.
UnitedHealth is an affiliate of the American Public Health Association.
A full-throated debate continues within Mississippi about issues of public health, especially within the Legislature where policy is approved and funded, and within communities as some make strong efforts to achieve better health and others remain mere spectators.
Until everyone is off the bench overall results probably will remain less than our best and lower than many seek.