Washoe County’s overall health is good compared to other counties in Nevada, but compared to the rest of the country, things aren’t so rosy. That’s the message that was delivered Wednesday during the unveiling of the annual County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report.
John Packham from the University of Nevada, Reno’s School of Medicine, along with the Washoe County Health District, reviewed the 2023 release of County Health Rankings compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
District Health Officer Kevin Dick said the rankings were a good assessment of how Washoe County is doing compared to other Nevada counties. Washoe came in third in the state among the 16 counties ranked. Esmeralda County was left out of the rankings because its population is too small.
Packham agreed, saying it was a chance to take stock.
“All of your healthiest counties are up here in northern Nevada, which is interesting,” Packham said. “We’ve been through hell and back with the pandemic,” he said, but added that there’s also been progress in improving the state’s public health.
Overall, while a few of Nevada’s counties have improved or slipped in the rankings, there’s “quite a bit of stability.”
Douglas and Pershing counties maintained their first and second spots in the rankings, respectively, positions that they also held in 2010 when the first rankings were released.
Counties across the country were measured in the rankings on both health outcomes – a snapshot of today’s health – and health factors – which influence tomorrow’s health.
Packham said there are many factors outside of traditional healthcare that impact overall community health.
The rankings take into account data from a number of sources and use 35 different measures to create an apples to apples comparison with other counties and communities across the nation. Another 39 measures are also reviewed but not included in the rankings, including two that are new: civic engagement and civic participation.
Among many rankings, Washoe ranks just below or near the state’s average, such as in life expectancy and percentage of people uninsured.
Packham said the data can’t be reviewed just by judging rankings however. One example is Washoe County’s ranking for obesity.
“I would caution you if you look at the last couple of years of data, we’ve seen obesity rates go up in almost every single county. Washoe County maintained its ranking, but levels are up overall.”
Packham said as much for levels of uninsured Nevadans as well. Washoe County is below the state average for uninsured individuals, at 13.3% vs. 14%.
“Washoe looks good if you’re comparing with other counties in Nevada, but would look bad compared to counties in other states like Massachusetts,” he said.
Other measures consequential to health that are included in the rankings include child poverty, housing, weight at birth, and food security.
In the long run, Packham said the health district and other organizations need to continue using evidence-based strategies to improve health including reducing the use of tobacco and e-cigarettes, eliminating food deserts and improving housing policy.
Transit, workforce development, employment policy and violence prevention were also mentioned as areas to address.
The 2023 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps are available online at https://www.countyhealthrankings.org/.