Cook County ranks in the bottom half of Illinois in terms of the health of its residents. Wealthier suburban counties such as DuPage County and Lake County are ranked as some of the healthiest in the state, according to the latest County Health Rankings released Tuesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin‐Madison.
The study looked at more than 60 factors across two categories: health outcomes, essentially how long people live and how healthy they feel; and health factors, things that influence health like poverty, education, transportation, and jobs.
“When we hear the word health, we often think about things like diet and exercise and going to the doctor’s office,” said Kate Konkle, associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin. “We know things like education, income, community safety, and safe and affordable housing are also really important components and things that are driving health of a community.”
The report also showed differences in health outcomes along income levels and racial and ethnic lines. The wealthiest county in the Chicago region, DuPage County, reported a median household income of $89,500; Cook County’s median household income is $61,400. In addition, the study reported that whites and Asians/Pacific Islanders were healthier than Latinos and African-Americans.
In this year’s report, Cook County ranked 52nd out of 102 counties in Illinois for health outcomes and 64th for health factors. But the county has made gains. In 2014, Cook County’s rankings were 75th for health outcomes and 74th for health factors.
The social and economic factors affecting the county’s most populous city, Chicago, impacted its rankings. Factors such as education levels, food insecurity, infant mortality, and severe housing cost burden — in which a person spends more than 50 percent of his or her income for the rent or mortgage — all affected the county’s ranking.
“Income inequality, housing inequality, and education inequality will drive many of these particular indices,” said Dr. Terry Mason, chief operating officer at the Cook County Department of Public Health. “And these are woven into the very fabric, the interstices, of the society that we live in, so those are not things that are easily undone by anyone.”
DuPage County ranked first for health factors, but slipped from the top spot in health outcomes in 2018. This year, DuPage County ranked second in the state for health outcomes.
“We have, throughout DuPage County, a variety of community-based coalitions and work groups who address the priority areas for health,” said Karen Ayala, executive director of the DuPage County Health Department.
Ayala added that with DuPage County’s population changes — “the flow of folks who are coming from the inner city and are relocating to our communities” — the county aims to prepare for the needs of its residents. “It’s very, very important to us to have the structures and systems in place to really help support those individuals who may be bringing both different needs as well as different resources,” she said.
Other Illinois counties in the region also fared well. Both Kendall and Lake counties finished among the state’s top 10 counties for both health outcomes and health factors. Both Will and McHenry counties placed among the top 25 Illinois counties for both categories. Kane County ranked 6th for health outcomes and 36th for health factors.
Monroe County, along the southwestern border of the state, next to the St. Louis metro region, ranked first in Illinois for health outcomes and second for health factors. Vermilion County, in east central Illinois, and Alexander County, at the state’s southern tip, were the least healthy counties. Both Vermilion and Alexander counties were ranked either last or next to last for health outcomes and health factors.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @estheryjkang.