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Ottawa is state's healthiest county

Krystle Wagner • Mar 30, 2017 at 10:00 AM

The fact that Ottawa County appears at the top of the list for health outcomes comes as no surprise to Jill Vander Stel, coordinator for the Northwest Ottawa Recreation Authority.

Whether it’s programs offered through NORA, the Tri-Cities Family YMCA, or local parks and trails, Vander Stel said other communities don’t have anywhere near what Northwest Ottawa County has to offer.

According to the 2017 County Health Rankings, Ottawa is first out of 83 Michigan counties for health outcomes. Muskegon and Kent counties ranked 68th and 17th, respectively.

Wayne County ranks last for health outcomes in the new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The report looks at length of life, quality of life, overall health factors, clinical care, health behaviors, social and economic factors, and physical environment.

According a press release from the foundation, Ottawa County “maintained or improved in 71 percent of the 35 measures, and did as well or better than the State of Michigan in 86 percent of the 35 measures.”

“The County Health Rankings show how the Ottawa County community works together to improve health outcomes,” said Kristina Wieghmink, spokeswoman for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. “This is evident in the Community Health Improvement Plan we’ve been implementing and making much progress.”

One example of the county’s efforts is the recent rollout of the Ottawa Pathways to Better Health program, which is aimed at improving health outcomes and access to services.

Some of the county’s strengths include: lower mortality rates, lower physical inactivity, lower adult smoking, lower unemployment, lower teen birth rate and lower injury deaths.

There’s also room for improvement.

Ottawa County’s adult obesity rate, about 28 percent, is slightly higher than that of other top healthy counties across the country, but it’s lower than the Michigan average of 31 percent.

Excessive drinking in Ottawa County is 21 percent, which is almost twice the top counties’ rate of about 12 percent.

Ottawa County’s ratio of mental health providers is 670 to 1, compared to the state average of 460 to 1.

Ottawa County’s physical inactivity rate is at about 19 percent, which is lower than the state average of 23 percent.

Vander Stel said NORA is seeing more baby boomers getting more active, and they’re looking at programming for that age group. Pickleball is one of the more popular activities that has picked up in recent years.

NORA has club sports for youth such as lacrosse, soccer, cross country, cheerleading, baseball and a new pickleball program.

The local organization also offers a 10-week recreational summer school program that’s supported by the Greater Ottawa County United Way and is a collaboration with The Salvation Army. Vander Stel said the program aims to get more children active. Due to funding, that program is currently offered at Ferry Elementary School and in the River Haven community.

Some of NORA’s adult programs include volleyball, dodgeball, softball and beach volleyball.

Vander Stel said the hardest part for people in being active is getting started. She said people have to try a variety of activities before finding their passion.

If you’re interested in joining a sport, Vander Stel encourages you to attend open gym events to meet players.

“It’s all about social connection,” she said.

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