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Editorial: Health report offers topics for discussion

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Johnson County has gotten its yearly health report card, and we do pretty well; but there are areas where we need to improve.

The county was ranked the 15th-healthiest in the state in an annual report compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. That’s the same ranking the county had in 2013, but in 2011 the county ranked 11th.

Although the overall ranking for Johnson County didn’t change this year, residents did make strides to become healthier by slightly reducing health risks, such as smoking and physical inactivity.

The health indicators show that local residents are smoking less. But the county still trails national benchmarks for unhealthy behaviors, such as obesity and excessive drinking.

Johnson County ranked high for the availability of doctors and dentists and had a low percentage of babies born with a low birth weight. Residents have ready access to exercise locations, such as parks, recreation centers and fitness studios.

Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County has been a leader in efforts to improve local health. It offers smoking cessation classes, weight-loss competitions like Dump Your Plump and programs on prenatal care. It also sends out experts with information on health topics including fitness and nutrition.

We applaud these efforts. They are having a measurable impact.

Johnson County Health Officer Dr. Craig Moorman said he doesn’t put much stock in ranking one county better than another when it comes to health. The study allows local health groups to review the statistics and see what the county is doing well and what areas need to be focused on.

“I like the opportunity. It brings this type of discussion into the forefront. A lot of things are individual choice and gives people a chance to make better lifestyle choices,” Moorman said.

For example, the smoking rate is reported to be 24 percent, roughly the same as the Indiana rate of 23 percent but well below the national rate of 14 percent. Thus, efforts must continue to reduce this rate and to educate young people so they don’t even start. The data could be the impetus for the Johnson County Board of Commissioners to revisit the idea of a more restrictive countywide smoking ordinance.

Even a 2 percentage point drop in the smoking rate represents more than 2,000 residents who have decided not to smoke or to quit, which is a major health accomplishment in a single year, Partnership for a Healthier Johnson County coordinator Jane Blessing said.

The rankings should not be an end in themselves. Rather, they should serve as a starting point for a discussion that leads to healthier practices.

Good health starts with the decisions a person makes on what to eat, how much they exercise and how they take care of their body. Armed with information, people can work toward improving their health.

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