ROSEBURG, Ore. (KMTR) - The 2013 National County Health Rankings have released the health ratings of each county in Oregon.
Douglas County is ranked as one of the least healthy counties in Oregon, according to the annual report funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It states that Douglas County is ranked 30th out of the 33 counties that have available information. There are 36 counties in Oregon; Sherman, Gilliam and Wheeler Counties did not have enough reported information to be properly ranked in the report.
Last year, Douglas County was ranked 32nd, so doctors say they are pleased of the small improvement; however, they say the county still has a fair amount of work to do in order to become healthier.
Doctors say there are three main reasons Douglas County scored so low on the ranking scale: smoking rates, obesity and lack of exercise. The County Health Rankings says 26 percent of adults in Douglas County smoke, which doctors say is one of the highest percentages in the nation. The study also says 31 percent of County residents are considered obese and 22 percent of the population is physically inactive.
But Douglas County also has an above-average unemployment rate and doctors say there is a huge correlation between smoking and income level.
"There's no question that the poor economy in Douglas County does correlate with poor health rankings," Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer, CEO of Architrave Health, said.
The Oregon Department of Employment says that Douglas County currently has an 11.4 percent unemployment rate, which is above the national 7.7 percent average.
In terms of why so many people in Douglas County smoke, Dr. Dannenhoffer says it is impossible to know all the reasons, but there are certain smoking trends.
"We know that it's clearly been related to poverty," Dannenhoffer said. "People who are poor tend to smoke more than people who are not in poverty. Smoking may be a little bit more socially-acceptable in Douglas County than it is in other places. And there may be people around those who smoke and we know certainly when you're in groups that tend to smoke, you tend to smoke, too."
Dr. Dannenhoffer says the high smoking and unemployment rates in Douglas County correlate with the poor health statistics. Benton County, for example, which came in second in the health ranking, has a 6.2 percent unemployment rate and a 12 percent smoking rate - both figures considerably lower than those of Douglas County.
"A health status and economy are clearly related," Dannenhoffer said. "You can't just work on one of them - you need to work on both of them because as we get a better economy, we'll get better health rankings. As we get better health rankings, we'll get a better economy."
The Health and Social Services Department says there are other factors used to determine the rankings, including education, income and the access to health care. Those factors could explain why Grant County - with a 12.9 percent unemployment rate and 24 percent smoking rate - landed the number one spot in the research.
Dr. Dannenhoffer hopes the Douglas County ranking will be better in 2014 - and he believes it can. He says more people will be on Medicaid and more health insurance exchanges will happen by next year. He also says that the Umpqua Health Alliance is working with a community advisory council to come up with a health improvement plan for the county.