Centre County is ranked second healthiest county in the state in an annual health-ranking program headed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The 2015 County Health Rankings evaluate the overall health outcomes and health factors for every county in the United States as part of the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program. Centre County ranked second in both categories.
Health outcomes are based on an equal weighting of length and quality of life, according to the program, and evaluate factors such as premature deaths, reports of poor physical or mental health days and low birth weight, the study said. Centre fell second behind Union County in this category.
Health factors are based on weighted scores for health behaviors, clinical care, the physical environment and social and economic factors, according to the rankings. Centre fell second behind Montgomery County in this category.
Centre ranked third in both categories in 2014, according to previous rankings.
The program seeks to make it easier for people to be healthier in their everyday lives and locations and helps communities “identify and implement solutions” to aid their residents.
When it comes to using data provided by such a program to help residents, State College health officer Kevin Kassab said, the initiative is typically applied on a countywide rather than municipality-wide scale.
When the county health rankings come out, Office of Adult Services Director Natalie Corman said, the county has to go through a lot of information to find out exactly how the county ranks.
For example, she said, how do students play into the rankings? If the ranking shows a high unemployment rate for people 18 years old and under (the program shows a percentage of the population 16 or older who are unemployed but seeking work), does that include new students whose goal is simply to go to school?
For adult services, she said, the information in the rankings is important. If it indicated unemployment was an issue in the county, adult services would be able to promote the proper service, like Pennsylvania Career Link or the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, to counter the unemployment rate.
“A good model for a successful county is to work on an individual level,” she said, “to work together collectively with other groups to meet the needs of the people.”
When a ranking like this is published, Mount Nittany Medical Center spokeswoman Nichole Monica said, it’s a good opportunity for those who work on health care concerns to pause and reflect how they’ve influenced improvements in the community.
“A ranking of No. 2 is quite impressive,” she said.
Some areas of the ranking that show a decline or stagnancy in the county, such as adult obesity, are being addressed through a Community Health Needs Assessment plan designed by the hospital. Similar data sources in the program were used to prepare the assessment, she said, and target six issues in the county — mental health, obesity/diabetes, oral health, access, substance abuse and healthy aging.
Health doesn’t end at the county line either, she said. Mount Nittany opened an office in Mifflin County in 2014 for those doctors and patients who want to be part of the health care system.
Mifflin ranks 42nd in health outcomes and 28th in health factors, according to the program.
Programs like the health rankings should be looked at with a grain of salt, Penn State professor of health policy Dennis Scanlon said. High rankings can indicate a strong health care system, but can also be a benefit of an educated population or other social factors.
Social factors can significantly alter data, he said, using excessive drinking as an example. Compared with other counties with no large universities, Centre County statistics may be higher for drinking. But those statistics may not be as high for a county with a large city and a higher poverty level.
“Does the information have face validity?” he said. “Ratings and rankings can be useful for thinking about the health of a community, but caution should be taken because, when you get into the details, the little differences can matter on both sides.”