Oregon's Most (And Least) Healthy Counties | KUOW News and Information

Oregon's Most (And Least) Healthy Counties

Mar 29, 2017
Originally published on March 29, 2017 12:46 pm

Oregon often has a reputation of being a healthy state, with an abundance of opportunities for outdoor activities.

But that doesn't mean all Oregonians are living healthy lifestyles.

A new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin released Wednesday reveals significant health disparities across the state.

"Oregon has a unique distinction of often being recognized for having really good health outcomes," said Abbey Cofsky, managing director of the program for the RWJF. "The county health rankings become an opportunity to look at that health at a more local level."

The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report breaks down health from counties across the country into myriad factors like quality of life, the length of life, alcohol and drug use, the number of mental health providers, and preventable hospital stays.

In Oregon, those numbers show broadly that people who live in southern Oregon tend to live shorter lives and have a lower quality of life, when compared with Willamette Valley counties.

Southern Oregonians also tend to use more tobacco and have fewer doctors available per person.

Most of the data came from federal surveys, and Cofsky said its intent is to help communities identify their biggest health issues and find ways to counteract them.

"It’s not just to point out the problems, but to point community leaders to the solutions," she said

Researchers attached to the project said the Columbia River Gorge is a good example of an area in Oregon that has used these data for positive change. A program on both sides of the river, called "Veggie Rx," got farmers to work together with medical providers so doctors could write prescriptions for fresh foods that patients could redeem at local farmers markets.

Julie Willems Van Dijk, director of the health rankings program at the University of Wisconsin, said the Veggie Rx program was exceptionally successful.

According to Willems Van Dijk, people returned the healthy food prescriptions at a rate of 95 percent, which she contrasted to a national redemption rate for prescription medications of only 76 percent.

"They constructed the program in such a way that people were willing to use those prescriptions," she said. "They didn’t feel stigmatized."

Despite that success, the program is currently searching for a sustainable funding source and hasn't spread throughout the Northwest.

The data do reveal a few surprising points for Oregon. People in Multnomah County, for example, are notably more likely to die sooner and live less healthy lifestyles than people in Washington or Clackamas counties.

In fact, Oregonians in Multnomah County are around 30 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who live in rural Grant County, where there are only seven primary care physicians.

Oregonians in parts of the state with thriving beer and wine cultures also tended to drink to excess more often than their counterparts in eastern Oregon. In the tri-county area and Deschutes County, excessive drinking occurred at a rate of 20-23 percent. Comparatively, Wheeler County had a rate of just 15 percent.

Nationally, the most significant finding this year is that U.S. residents are dying younger than they have in the past. People aged 15-44 make up the bulk of those deaths, "particularly from rises in drug overdoses," said Willems Van Dijk.

Oregon Counties Ranked By Length And Quality Of Life:

Oregon Counties Ranked By Healthy Behaviors And Care Availability:

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.