Mar 29, 2023 - News

Polk's health ranking drops to bottom half of Iowa counties

Illustration of a health care weathervane

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Polk County's health rank slipped this year into the bottom half of Iowa counties, according to a report released today by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Why it matters: The data can help us improve — perhaps prompting individual and government actions to strengthen community health.

State of play: This year's ranking looked at factors measuring infrastructure and civic participation, including access to parks, school funding adequacy, broadband access, voter turnout and self-reported census participation.

  • Counties with well-resourced civic infrastructure have higher graduation rates and household incomes, plus lower rates of child poverty and less overall income inequality, researchers found.
Health outcomes of Iowa counties, 2023
Data: County Health Rankings; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

By the numbers: Polk is No. 69 among Iowa's 99 counties in health outcomes.

  • That's its lowest showing since the rankings began more than a decade ago. Last year it was No. 45.
  • Every surrounding county, except for Jasper at No. 49, scored in the top 25.

Of note: The healthiest county was Sioux in northwest Iowa, while the least healthy was Montgomery, in the southern portion of the state.

Zoom in: Polk County residents perform slightly better than the state average in terms of smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.

  • But sexually transmitted infections, teen births, housing problems and levels of air pollution are all higher.

The big picture: Counties with lower rankings aren't necessarily in bad spots, Sandra Burke, a research scientist with Iowa State University's Indicators Program, told Axios last year.

  • Reviewing individual factors and how they change over time is more important, she said.

What's next: The health institute offers more than 400 evidence-informed strategies.

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