Sometimes finishing in second place is OK. Such as, Platte County comes in second in Missouri behind St. Charles County in a national study on health based on counties.
That doesn’t make us bullet proof, as my recent nagging cold proved, but it’s far better than being second from the bottom in such a list. It’s one more thing to brighten the spring season, community factors that give us chances for good health look good.
This study was done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. You can peruse it on the organization’s website.
The study examined in each county adult smoking, obesity, physical activity, access to exercise opportunities, excessive drinking, unemployment, income inequality, air pollution, teen births, people with no health insurance, preventable hospital stays, education attainment, child poverty, violent crime and injury deaths.
One factor that jumped out at me, the study noted that 81 percent of the county’s population has access to exercise activities. This is highlighted in the study as a strong point.
For this factor we can thank Platte County’s parks and recreation program and the sales tax that voters have approved twice to support it. The county is a partner with cities, state agencies and non-profit groups for trails, parks, ball fields, community centers and public events.
Subtract all this and we would likely slide a bit in the national rankings. Worse, individual people might be less healthy and happy.
Parks have been fought in the past by folks who thought them a needless expense or maybe they just didn’t like any service that a well-run community government can provide. If money is their issue, let’s consider economic development.
When national or regional businesses are looking for places to build new factories, distribution centers, offices and retail outlets, they look at these types of rankings. A healthy county boosts economics, and economics spurs services that improve health rankings. The pro-active action county leaders took to create a park system is a factor in the symbiotic relationship between health and business.
Being No. 2 in the state, especially a big state such as Missouri, is a good thing.
Schools are a factor. The study noted that Platte County has a 93 percent high school graduation rate and 78 percent of residents have some college.
Our air and water quality is good.
So are health care services. Only 10 percent of the county’s residents lack health insurance coverage.
This study ranks Platte County ahead of our neighboring counties in the metro area on the Missouri side of the state line.
Let us not be smug about this. A lot of luck and history give us the advantage. The post-World War II white flight out of Kansas City into the suburbs is a sad tale of racial intolerance and segregation that left neighborhoods in the old areas economically depressed. Social problems followed in an unhealthy cycle. It’s oft ignored, but we have a stake in the broader metro area’s welfare.
The study suggests reducing smoking, adult obesity and excessive drinking as areas for future improvement in the county. We’re not perfect.
Transit is a factor in the study. It was noted that 84 percent of the county’s residents drive alone to work, and 30 percent make long commutes. Many of us can vouch that a long commute is hard on health.
Driving in commuter traffic in a metro area on outdated roads is stressful. The amount of available restful time at home is reduced. People locked into these commutes by life’s circumstances suffer.
But the metro area’s problems with suburban sprawl and insufficient mass transit will probably take another century to fix.
Platte County is one of the state’s most affluent counties, a development of recent decades thanks to high dollar houses being built in the southern tier or McMansions going up out in rural areas. That’s a big reason we look so healthy, too.
But we’re also one of the fastest growing counties.
The caution there is, we better be building into that growth healthy infrastructure that includes parks, natural areas, good water planning and other factors that boost physical and mental health.
All it takes is a bunch of mega truck stops off the interstates, traffic jams on the highways and housing built with poor long-term qualities to make our ranking drop sharply and quickly.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.