Both Benton and Linn counties got a little healthier over the past year, moving up slightly in an annual ranking of Oregon’s 36 counties based on population health.
Benton moved up to No. 2 after four straight years in the third spot, while Linn climbed two places to No. 20 after two years at 22.
That’s according to the 2018 County Health Rankings, released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which compare counties in all 50 states each year on more than 30 factors. Counties are ranked within each state and benchmarked against state and national averages for a variety of health measures.
Washington County was once again the healthiest place to live in Oregon, while Clackamas County, last year’s No. 2, slid to third place. Hood River and Deschutes counties rounded out this year’s top five.
Benton County led the state in two broad areas that influence population health — clinical care and social and economic factors — and ranked fourth in health behaviors.
For instance, the county has less than half the national average rate of physical inactivity and is below the average for other risk factors such as smoking, obesity and teenage pregnancy.
Just 7 percent of residents under 65 have no health insurance, compared to 8 percent statewide and 11 percent nationally. And with two of the region’s largest health care providers — Samaritan Health Services and the Corvallis Clinic — headquartered in Benton County, residents enjoy a significantly higher-than-average number of primary care physicians and mental health providers per capita.
In addition, the county also has high rates of educational attainment, low unemployment and a violent crime rate under half the state average.
Still, there are other areas of population health where Benton struggles year after year, with above-average rates of sexually transmitted infections and income inequality. The county also scored poorly in areas such as food insecurity and housing costs.
Mitch Anderson, director of the Benton County Health Department, said local residents tend to do well in these rankings in part because of active lifestyles, low smoking rates and easy access to high-quality health care.
“The biggest influence on people’s health is personal choices,” he said.
But he also pointed out that there are always areas where improvement is needed, and he thinks the annual county health rankings can help motivate people to do that.
“Everybody likes to see numbers and see where they rank, and it just gets out a public health message every year,” Anderson said. “Health is everyone’s concern.”
On a number of metrics, Linn County scored quite well.
Despite its middle-of-the-pack overall ranking, it rated well above average on some broad factors that impact health, coming in at No. 11 in clinical care and No. 15 in social and economic factors.
Linn outperformed the state and national average (and neighboring Benton County) on levels of excessive drinking, sexually transmitted disease and violent crime.
And although it has a lower median household income than Benton County, Linn did better on some important economic measures, with below-average rates of income inequality and severe housing problems.
At the same time, however, Linn County has higher-than-average rates of joblessness and childhood poverty while lagging in high school graduation rates and post-secondary education.
The county has higher-than-average levels of obesity, physical inactivity and teen births. It also has less access to primary care doctors and mental health providers than the state and nation as a whole.
Linn County Health Services Department Administrator Todd Noble said he was glad to see the county doing better in this year’s rankings, crediting the improvement at least in part to a collaboration with Samaritan Health Services and the InterCommunity Health Network Coordinated Care Organization, the Samaritan arm that administers the Oregon Health Plan for Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties.
“I’m not surprised we’ve moved up a little bit,” he said. “Obviously, we’d like to be higher, but the partnership we have with Samaritan Health is strong.”