Benton County residents are the healthiest overall in Oregon, according to a national report that ranked factors ranging from infant mortality to teen pregnancy rates and longevity.
The top spot for being tip-top in health comes from The County Health Rankings, the first set of reports by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute that seek to rank the health of every county in all 50 states. (See the full rankings at www.countyhealthrankings.org.)
In addition to rankings of how healthy the population of the county is and how long people here live, the study focused on obesity rates, smoking, binge drinking, access to primary health care providers, high school graduation rates, the incidence of violent crime, air pollution, unemployment and the number of children living in poverty.
Five specific measures were used to assess levels of "healthy outcomes," such as the number of people alive after age 75; the percentage of people who self-reported being in good health; the number of days people said they were sick and the number of days when they said they were in poor mental health, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Web site, www.rwjf.org/.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the largest philanthropic organization in the country dedicated solely to health issues.
Because highly variable factors such as unemployment, air quality and education were compared, the relatively similar landscape of Linn County turned up 26th on the state list.
The study's authors noted that poorly ranked counties might have had a cluster of unfavorable rankings, such as higher rates of premature death - often linked to higher rates of smoking.
So who gets the credit for Benton County's clean bill of health?
The people who should feel proudest of the ranking are Benton County residents themselves, because it reflects their priorities, lifestyles and spending habits, according to Charlie Fautin, the deputy director of the Benton County Health Department.
Fautin said that for many years, Benton County individuals, businesses, K-12 schools, universities and public agencies have consistently made choices that put a premium on health, education and the general welfare.
"For example," Fautin said Wednesday, "one of the measures (considered in the study) is alcohol use. OSU has a strong alcohol education program. We have a really responsible business people who attend training on spotting false IDs and the dangers of selling alcohol to minors. We have a teen pregnancy rate that is often the lowest in the state."
Even community support for organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club of Corvallis, which offers wholesome after-school activities to children who might otherwise find less healthy ones, adds up to "Public health with a capital PH," Fautin said. But he added a caution:
"This doesn't mean that every single person in Benton County is the healthiest, or that we don't have pockets of poverty and places where people suffer from low nutrition (and lack of health care.)"
Officials are mindful that the rankings are as much of a challenge as an affirmation of success.
Mel Kohn, the director of Oregon Public Health at the Oregon Department of Human Services, announced that his division and Community Health Partnership were hosting two sessions to discuss the report with legislators. They'll host a legislative breakfast this morning and a Friday morning briefing before the Oregon House of Representatives and Human Services Committee to inform state leaders about the importance of these health indicators - and what the counties in the lower rankings need to do to improve.