Report says West-Central Illinois a healthy place -- especially Brown County

John Frank of Quincy works out on an elliptical machine Wednesday at the Kroc Center. Since the center opened in fall 2011, more than 6,000 people have joined to take advanatage of the physical fitness programs and equipment. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Mar. 21, 2013 12:28 pm Updated: Apr. 4, 2013 1:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

A new report indicates that West-Central Illinois is one of the healthiest areas in the state, particularly Brown County.

The fourth annual Illinois county rankings, provided by the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Foundation, list Brown County as the ninth-healthiest among the 102 counties in the state.

The report, released Wednesday, uses a variety of data on factors such as smoking, obesity, teen birthrates, access to dentists and primary care doctors, and other cultural factors to formulate the rankings.

Pike County was No. 11, Hancock County No. 27 and Adams County No. 44. All four of the West-Central Illinois counties rank relatively high in most of the 30 different categories.

Suzanne Woodward believes Brown County's high ranking is no accident. Woodward is the executive director of the Mount Sterling Community Center YMCA, and she has seen firsthand how the community has taken to heart trying to better the health of residents.

"Our usage of the building, which opened in 2004, continues to increase," Woodward said. "The people are ‘getting it' when it comes to good health, and we just keep trying to provide more of what they want."

There are two telling statistics tied to the Brown County ranking. Mount Sterling, where the YMCA is located, has a population of 1,900 in a county of about 5,000. YMCA membership is 2,405, or about 500 more than the population of the town it is in.

"I think word has gotten out that we have to do something about our health," Woodward said. "Nationally, there has also been quite a bit of emphasis on childhood obesity and the number of children with diabetes."

The Dot Foods complex near the YMCA is also a major supporter of the YMCA, she said.

"I give Dot Foods a lot of credit," she said. "They provide incentives for their employees to join the Y."

The rankings are part of a project to help counties take action to improve health. The University of Wisconsin has a website providing guidance to counties, and in February, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded six $25,000 prizes to communities that are organizing to improve health. The winning communities were in five states: California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota.

"Rather than guessing, communities can use the county health rankings and really look at specific drivers of health and outcomes, and make plans and take action to improve health," said Elissa Bassler of the Illinois Public Health Institute, a nonprofit group that promotes partnerships to work on health issues such as obesity and physical education in schools.

Lt. Rich Forney of  the Salvation Army, which operates the Kroc Center in downtown Quincy, said outreach programs that involve partnering with local schools has helped attract youngsters to the physical fitness programs and services the center offers.

"We want kids to know this is a resource for them," Forney said. "We're looking forward to building more partnerships as we grow."

Developing a schedule tied to good workout habits is part of the overall program at the Kroc Center.

"We also have them working with a staff of (physical health) professionals," Forney said.

Calvin Cookson is a wrestler and football player at Quincy High School who goes to the Kroc Center to stay in shape, especially in between sports seasons.

"I come about every day to lift (weights) or play basketball," Cookson said.

Forney said about 1,000 people use the various workout and recreational facilities each day at the Kroc Center, which has 6,400 members. The facility opened in fall 2011.

Debbie Hoffman is a regular visitor to the Kroc Center.

"I use a lot of cardio stuff," Hoffman said. "I'm here about five times a week."

Alex Altmix is a regular at the Kroc Center and at the student recreation center at Quincy University. He admits to being "health conscious."

"I love coming to play basketball (at both sites)," Altmix said. "You can always find a lot of people to have a game. I also like to use the weight rooms."

Nationally, the report shows that unhealthy counties have higher rates of childhood poverty compared with healthy counties.

That's drawn out in the Illinois figures. In Douglas County, the state's healthiest, 16 percent of children live in poverty. In Alexander County, the unhealthiest, 48 percent of children live in poverty. The state's overall child poverty rate is 21 percent.

The percentage of of children living in poverty in the four West-Central Illinois counties ranges from 9 to 23 percent .

Following Douglas on the list of the healthiest counties in Illinois are Jo Daviess, Woodford, Mercer and Henry counties.

The five least healthy counties are all in southern Illinois: Alexander, Gallatin, Edwards, Franklin and Pulaski.By STEVE EIGHINGER
Herald-Whig Staff Writer

The Associated Press contributed to this story.