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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 21, 2017

Jefferson County ranks highly in health

By ANDY HALLMAN | Mar 21, 2013

Jefferson County ranks among the top counties in Iowa for its residents’ health, according to a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which studied the health of residents in every county in the nation.

Jefferson County ranks No. 21 out of 99 counties for its overall health outcomes. Jefferson County residents report experiencing fewer poor physical health days as well as fewer poor mental health days than the state average.

The county’s residents reported experiencing an average of 2.2 poor physical health days in the 30 days prior to taking the survey, which puts Jefferson County in the top 10 percent of counties nationally. That number also is lower than the state average of 2.8.

Jefferson County residents reported an average of 2.4 poor mental health days over the prior 30 days, which also is lower than the state average of 2.7.

The county scored well in having a small percentage of low birthweight babies, which accounted for 4.9 percent of all births compared to the state average of 6.9 percent.

Iowa Department of Public Health director Mariannette Miller-Meeks said these rankings were a valuable tool but only one of many tools in shaping the state’s policies toward health.

“It’s important to understand these rankings do not present a complete picture of what Iowa’s counties have accomplished,” said Miller-Meeks. “These rankings will be used in conjunction with other community health assessments and planning efforts to find the best ways to address challenges and build upon successes.”

The report identified a few areas Jefferson County could work on. Twenty-one percent of adults routinely smoke tobacco in Jefferson County, which is higher than the state average of 18 percent. Thirty percent of adults in the county are obese, which is only slightly higher than the state average of 29 percent. Fourteen percent of the county’s population under 65 is without health insurance, compared to the state average of 11 percent.

At the same time, Jefferson County scores quite well on other behavior-related benchmarks. For instance, 16 percent of adults in Jefferson County engage in binge drinking, which is below the state average of 20 percent. The prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia is much lower in the county at 137 cases per 100,000 people than the state average of 346 cases per 100,000 people.

The report contains a section on “social and economic factors.” Jefferson County scores well on a few of these criteria but needs to improve on others. The bright spots for the county include its violent crime rate, which is less than half the state average, and the number of children living in single-parent households, which is 22 percent for Jefferson County and 27 percent across Iowa.

The county’s ranking takes a hit because of measures such as children living in poverty, who account for 23 percent of children in Jefferson County compared to 17 percent in Iowa. At the time the data on unemployment were taken, Jefferson County’s unemployment rate stood at 7.3 percent to the state’s 5.9 percent.

The report, along with a color-coded map comparing each Iowa county’s health ranking, can be found at



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