Togwoteee Pass is a sharp dividing line between the healthiest and the unhealthiest counties in Wyoming, according to a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Teton County is ranked the healthiest in the Cowboy State, and neighboring Fremont County came in last.
The data crunched for the report include everything from excessive drinking and adult obesity to mammography screenings, high school graduation rates and the ratio of mental health providers to the general population.
Though Teton County generally scores well, its population would score even higher with fewer adult smokers, fewer sexually transmitted infections, more health insurance and, perhaps unsurprisingly, better housing. The study defined “severe housing problems,” a Teton County staple, as households facing overcrowding, high housing costs or lack of adequate plumbing or kitchen facilities.
“The rankings illustrate that where we live influences how long and how we live,” said Janna West Kowalski, whose job is to help readers digest the findings.
This year’s report chose to focus on housing as a “foundation for living long and well.”
Statewide, 10 percent of households spend more than half of their income on housing costs. In Teton County it’s 16 percent. The number could explain why the county ranks 14th in physical environment but first in health outcomes, length of life, health factors, health behaviors, clinical care and social and economic factors.
Fremont County, home to Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation, faces larger health problems. Data show that sexually transmitted infections, teen births, alcohol-impaired driving deaths, percent unemployed and percentage uninsured are all significantly higher in Fremont County than the state average. Children in poverty and children in single-parent households are also listed as areas for improvement in the report.
American Indian and Alaskan Native residents are also most burdened by severe housing costs, with 14 percent of the population spending more than half of their income on housing costs, compared with 9 percent of white households.
“The American Indian and Alaska Native people have long experienced lower health status when compared with other Americans,” reads information from the Indian Health Service. “Lower life expectancy and the disproportionate disease burden exist perhaps because of inadequate education, disproportionate poverty, discrimination in the delivery of health services, and cultural differences. These are broad quality of life issues rooted in economic adversity and poor social conditions.”
The study doesn’t focus just on pointing out the good and the bad. It includes a database of strategies to bolster areas flagged as needing improvement. There are also resources for communities who want to create change.
“The purpose of the rankings is to serve as a call to action,” West Kowalski said.