New health rankings reveal stark contrast between local counties


Reporter - Briana Conner
Photographer - David Dycus

A ranking released Wednesday shows how counties across America stack up when it comes to health. The ranking, released by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, takes an in-depth look at 25 different factors that influence health and well-being.

Comparing the results across Kentucky counties in the Local 6 viewing area, Calloway and Lyon both fall in the top ten for best health. In fact, Lyon County comes in fourth out of all 120 counties in Kentucky. They stand out for a number of reasons like high access to healthy food and low violent crime rates, but that's not all the ranking considers. They looked at things like premature death rates, risky behaviors like smoking and drinking, and also the number of kids living in poverty. Lyon County leaders say those are all things their local government has actively worked to improve.

"We rated number four for a reason. I think it's because we have a wonderful place to live," said Lyon County Judge Executive Wade White. He added that the high ranking comes at no surprise. "It's a place we all love to be, and I think that plays a major role in it," he said.

The small community stands out for impressive high school graduation rates, easy access to healthy foods, and low violent crime rates. Judge White attributes that success to the family-oriented nature of the town, and the high number of churches in the area.

The fiscal court in Lyon County also funnels money into improving and maintaining parks, walking trails, and athletic fields. Michelle Larkin with The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said it takes more than that to get such a high ranking. "It's not one single thing that makes us healthy or unhealthy. It's actually a variety of factors that all come together to help us be healthy," said Larkin.

That's why the group suggests using the results like a road map to guide communities toward better health. Judge White says he hopes Lyon County's ranking will take them straight to the bank. "It gets us recognized by small businesses, entrepreneurs, and large businesses that are looking to be in an area where they're having healthy, happy employees," he said.

There's a large gap separating places like Lyon County with other counties who fall toward the bottom of the ranking. Unhealthy counties have more than double the amount of early deaths than healthy ones, and childhood poverty rates are twice as high.