Rates of obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, breast cancer screenings and childhood poverty are all on the rise as Allegheny County fell in state rankings released by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
“The factors that contribute the most to health are actually social and economic,” said Kate Konkle, director of research and learning for the school's County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, which compiled the data. “Things that we don’t often think about when we hear the word health. Things like education, income and community safety.”
Sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the report scores U.S. counties based on access to health care, adult smoking rates, air quality and other factors. Allegheny County ranked 29th out of Pennsylvania's 67 counties this year, three slots down from 2016; Butler County scored the best regionally, coming in at No. 7.
Philadelphia County again came in last. It has held that position since the annual report was first released in 2011. Chester County came in first.
The national increase in drug overdose deaths had a widespread negative effect on life expectancy rates.
Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker has been working to combat that peaking death rate locally. She said one way to help could be better education for medical professionals on how to write safer opioid prescriptions.
“Because I think this is really an area that for medical individuals, they just don’t have a lot of information on this,” Hacker said in November. “I would really be in favor of physicians really understanding their recovery options and the treatment options.”
In most measures — including adult smoking, high school graduation and teen births — Allegheny County ranks better than the state average but far worse than the highest rated nationwide. Those include Boulder County in Denver and Maricopa County in Arizona, which is home to Phoenix.
Konkle said an area's obesity rate is especially telling.
“There’s not really a county in the U.S. that can be happy with their number, and I would say Allegheny is in that group, too,” she said. “While [Allegheny County is] performing better than the state of Pennsylvania by a little bit, still over one-quarter of adults report weights that would make them obese. That’s definitely concerning.”
Konkle said the hope is that county officials will use the report to better focus social service, economic development and education efforts.