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Allegheny County Health Rankings: Room to Improve

You take the good with the bad.

That’s what officials at the Allegheny County Health Department said about the sixth annual County Health Rankings released last week.

According to the report, the county improved from 40th to 34th in health outcomes, but fell from 15th to 19th in health factors, which include measurements of health behaviors, social and economic factors and physical environments.

Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said the statewide rankings provide Pennsylvania’s 67 counties with useful information even though it uses data that is at least four years old.

“It’s really a way of giving counties nationwide, both by state, but also by national data, information on a regular basis so that they really can start to understand where they are, vis-à-vis this particular indices, and where they need to go,” Hacker said.

The county’s improvement in the health outcomes category, which measures length and quality of life, was largely driven by a decrease in premature deaths—those dying before the age of 75. According to the 2014 report, there were 7,253 premature deaths in Allegheny County. That number, which has been steadily falling for the last 10 years, now sits at 6,983.

“A lot of this, in terms of premature death, has to do with better treatment, in particular, around cardiovascular disease and stroke, in which we’ve been seeing a decline overall,” Hacker said.

She also said dropping infant mortality rates, along with advances in breast cancer treatments, have contributed to the decline in premature deaths.

But the county has room to improve in health factors. The number of preventable hospital stays decreased, along with violent crime and air pollution, but the county made no progress in terms of obesity or smoking, and cases of sexually transmitted diseases have climbed. According to the 2014 report, there were 489 reported STD cases, but that number has jumped to 524.

Hacker said the health department has started a new program to get Allegheny County active.

“We have launched our Live Well Allegheny campaign, which is really targeted at smoking and physical inactivity and obesity and those types of things and the food environment,” she said. “We, of course, have our own programs related to sexually transmitted diseases.”

Moving forward, Hacker said the health department will conduct its own countywide research to try and gather more up-to-date data.

“We are actually going forward with our own behavioral health risk factor survey, which will give us a more accurate depiction of how Allegheny County looks,” she said, “and we’re going to be starting that relatively soon.”