Lake County ranked in five most unhealthy counties

Mecosta, Osceola counties moderately healthy according to health rankings

By Whitney Gronski-Buffa and Sarah Nuebecker

Pioneer News Network

BALDWIN — Much of what impacts an individual’s health happens outside of the doctor’s office, as demonstrated by Michigan’s 2012 County Health Rankings.

The rankings score counties in each state on a series of Health Factors and Health Outcomes. This year’s rankings, released last week, include several new measures, such as how many fast food restaurants are in a county and levels of physical inactivity among residents.

The County Health Rankings are provided by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. This is the third year the rankings have been available. Data used in this year’s rankings was collected between 2006 and 2008 in a self-reporting study.

Each county receives two main rankings: Health Outcomes and Health Factors. Health Outcomes illustrate the current health of the community and include additional factors on how long we live (mortality) and how well we live (morbidity). Health Factors focus on future health of the community and include information on health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment.

Of the 82 counties surveyed, this year’s rankings place Mecosta and Osceola counties in the middle of the pack, ranking 31 and 36, respectively. Lake County, however, was one of the five unhealthiest counties in the state, ranking 78 out of 82.


Lake County ranked 78 in health outcomes and 81 in health factors, placing it in the top five unhealthiest counties in the state. Overall, it is ranked 78, moving up two places from its ranking of 80 in 2011.

In the Health Outcomes category, 17 percent of Lake County residents reported being in poor or fair health, placing them above the state average of 14 percent.

In the Health Factors category, obesity was on par with the state average, both weighing in at 32 percent of citizens being obese. Lake County was equal with Mecosta County in terms of physical inactivity.

The teen birth rate in Lake County was almost double that of the state average, with 61 out of every 1,000 Lake County teens giving birth as compared to 34 out of every 1,000 in Michigan. Forty-three percent of Lake County children live in poverty, while 23 percent statewide claim the same. The number of residents who reportedly go without health insurance also was higher than the state average — 19 percent of Lake County residents are uninsured, while 14 percent of Michigan residents are uninsured.

Cathy Sather, president and CEO of the Baldwin Family Health Care that while the overall numbers are discouraging, that Lake County is making improvements.

“Don’t just look at the snapshot in terms of the rankings,” she said. “We have made progress and that is good news.”

Sather notes that Lake County’s premature mortality rates have gone down and the Baldwin Family Health Care is working with area hospitals to provide care for residents.

“We now have enough physicians to care for our populations, we have increased dental coverage in day cares and schools and made improvements in our teen health centers in the Baldwin Community Schools.”

Lake County faired better in terms of the physical environment. Air pollution, measured by unhealthy air quality days in a year, was one-fifth of the state average. Only 15 percent of restaurants in the county are considered to be “fast food” restaurants, while 48 percent earn the distinction statewide.

“Progress takes time and takes effort and takes individuals taking personal responsibility,” Sather said. “I think when these numbers come out next year you’ll see that (Lake County) has improved.”

The complete services of the Baldwin Family Health Center are available online at


Mecosta County received a Health Outcomes rank of 31 and a Health Factors score of 42. In 2011, the county’s overall rank was 21, making this year’s rank a slide backwards.

In the Health Outcomes category, 11 percent of Mecosta County residents reported being in poor health compared with 14 percent of their fellow Michigananders.

In the Health Factors category, obesity rates were equal with the state average, both coming at 32 percent. Twenty-six percent of residents reported being physically inactive in Mecosta County while 25 percent reported the same across the state.

Chosen behaviors, such as what someone eats or whether they exercise, have the biggest impact on an individual’s health, but those behaviors aren’t always something health professionals can affect, said Tom Hogenson, public relations manager and foundation director at Mecosta County Medical Center. Although doctors can bring up obesity or a smoking habit at an appointment, it’s up to the individual to take action to change.

The report is best used as a reference for what can be improved by policy makers, Hogenson said. Access to recreational activities — an area where Mecosta County scored well — is more within the control of county leaders, said Hogenson, who also is a Big Rapids city commissioner.

Twenty-nine percent of Mecosta County children live in poverty, slightly more than the state’s average of 23 percent. Fifteen percent of Mecosta County residents are uninsured, about equal with the state’s 14 percent. In terms of the physical environment in Mecosta County, about 43 percent of the county’s restaurants are classified as “fast food,” with 48 percent in the state fall into that category. Although these are other things that can’t necessarily be changed by health professionals or county leaders, they are worth examining, Hogenson said.

“We have 29 percent of children in poverty, in contrast with many counties where it’s less, so one of the areas we need to be cognizant of is getting (health care) access for families with children,” he said. “If you have modest income, and you shop for fresh fruit in a market, you know buying fresh fruit is more expensive than buying McDonald’s. So are you able to provide good nutrition while monitoring your income? That might be an issue to look at in our county.”


Osceola County ranked at 36 in the Health Outcomes category and 65 in Health Factors. This year’s overall ranking at 47 is a step forward for the county, which was ranked 52 overall in 2011.

“The improvement in the rankings… for our region is a clear sign that the work we are collectively doing to improve health status is working,” said Mary Kushion, Central Michigan District Health Department health officer.

In the Health Outcomes category, 12 percent of Osceola County residents described themselves as being in poor health. In the Health Factors, obesity rates were one percentage point above the state average of 32 percent, and 28 percent of the county’s residents reported being physically inactive.

Angela Russell, associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin said though Osceola County’s health outcomes rank improved, the county’s recorded health factors, including adult obesity, adult smoking and availability of primary care physicians, got worse.

Osceola County’s Together We Can! group is led by Lisa Pope, infection control nurse at Spectrum Health Reed City Hospital. New programs, policies and strategies that led to the increase in ranking this year are directly related to the combined effort through the initiative, Kushion said.

The Get Active program encourages community members to visit Reed City High School from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to exercise by walking in the halls.

About 29 percent of Osceola County children live in poverty, equal with those in Mecosta County but higher than the state average of 23 percent. Fifteen percent of residents are uninsured. Fast food restaurants account for 27 percent of all restaurants in Osceola County and 43 percent statewide.

To see the complete breakdown of each county’s rankings, visit and click on the state of Michigan.

Lake County Star staff writer Joe Martinez contributed to this report.