National Health Rankings Are a Roadmap to Better Health

To the Editor:
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin recently publicized the 2018 national annual county health rankings.

The rankings provide a valuable tool for mapping the way to better health, as the publication is officially titled “County Health Rankings and the Roadmaps.”

Many factors contribute to community health, including access to healthy foods, the average length of commute, exercise facilities, education, environment, health insurance, housing, jobs, medical care and more.

The rankings provide a snapshot of factors that influence community health and can be a powerful tool for communities looking at short- and long-term health trends.

Each community can use the “Roadmaps” to find ways to improve health.

This is the first value of the Roadmaps.

The ranked health factors usually consist of many individual measures, which are another important component of the Roadmaps.

These measures highlight a community’s advantages and shortcomings, and the measured data over time indicate the trends of changes.

Individual measures are instrumental in identifying community health improvement needs and opportunities – this is the second value of the Roadmaps.

The rankings also include measures beyond traditional public health such as unemployment rates, affordable housing and high school graduation rates.

The inclusion of these measures and the annual publication of the rankings remind people that communities can do something about health and that health is everyone’s business.

The “County Health Rankings and Roadmaps” call for community members, organizations and individuals to take actions to improve health for all – this is the third value of the Roadmaps.

Since the “County Health Rankings and Roadmaps” started, our community has been using the information and tools to make improvements.

An example is the “Healthy Highway” program that helps school children to make healthy eating choices and to encourage them to be physically active.

A pilot program involving three Oswego elementary schools, SUNY Oswego, OCO and the county health department demonstrated that the program is effective in teaching school children healthy eating knowledge and practices.

The program has been expanded and now Oswego Health, CiTi, SUNY Oswego, Northern Oswego County Health Services, the county health department, Oswego County Opportunities, Cornell University Cooperative Extension, Oswego YMCA, and the Shineman Foundation are working together to implement “Healthy Highway” in all nine school districts in the county for long-term sustainability.

Our own experience has shown us that long-term plans can change our community’s health.

Thirty years ago, Oswego County had a higher than average teen pregnancy rate, but since then cooperative efforts by OCO and BOCES (now CiTi) and others have significantly changed that statistic.

Through their persistent efforts, the county’s teen pregnancy rate today is lower than the state and regional averages.

By using the “County Health Rankings and Roadmaps” and by working together, we can and will move Oswego County toward better health for all.

Jiancheng Huang
Director of Public Health
Oswego County Health Department