Washington County ranks high for health

April 2, 2014

Germantown —Washington County was ranked among the healthiest counties in the state, according to a recently released report that was compiled by two organizations.

The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute worked in tandem with the Princeton, N.J.-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to rank geographic areas in a number of ways, including ready access to health care, residents' lifestyle habits and the overall physical environment.

The UW Population Health Institute has been conducting the annual surveys in recent years. In this year's compilation, Washington ranked eighth out of the state's 72 counties.

Linda Walter, Washington County's health officer, attributed the high ranking to several factors, including strong collaboration among a number of parties.

Examples of collaboration

One of the most prominent examples, Walter said, is her department's collaboration with the Healthy People Project of Washington County, a community-based coalition looking to add health and wellness programs throughout the county.

In Germantown, the health department has helped spearhead a number of programs that contributed to the high ranking, including a community garden that was established in 2012 at Dheinsville Historic Park through a close working relationship with the Germantown Park and Recreation Department.

"We realized there would be strong interest in having a community garden in Germantown," said Joni Whitehouse, assistant director of the health department. "Produce from the garden has been used with meals at the Germantown Senior Center."

The health department also has been collaborating regularly with officials within the Germantown School District and assisting with produce offerings on students' lunch trays.

"We spend a lot of time meeting and engaging with different coalitions," Walter said. "We believe this is very important."

Distilling information

The health survey has been administered in recent years through a grant. Walter said data will continue to be compiled on annual surveys into the immediate future.

When asked how she hopes the data will be distilled, Walter said she would like local municipal and school leaders to use it when planning future program and infrastructure options.

"Communities can use this information to plan their policies," Walter said, pointing out a growing movement in many areas to create environments that promote a walkable lifestyle. "The reality is we are in control of our health, but our environment certainly contributes to our quality of life."

Continuing to work

While the high ranking is an accolade for each community within Washington County, Walter said the health department will not rest on its laurels.

"You can't just sit back and pat yourself on the back," she said. "The Washington County Health Department will continue to collaborate with local organizations … to achieve our true mission of promoting health, preventing disease and protecting the public."

Comprehensive information on Washington and other counties across the state can be viewed at countyhealthrankings.org.

The seven counties that edged out Washington in this year's analysis were Calumet, Door, Kewaunee, Taylor, Portage and St. Croix. Nearby Ozaukee County was ranked the healthiest region in the state.

Most of the least healthy counties are in the state's northern region and include Adams, Forest, Menominee and Marquette. Milwaukee County was ranked the second least healthy in the state.

Waukesha County was ranked the 16th healthiest in the analysis.

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