Berrien County health ranked in bottom half

Published 10:30 pm Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Berrien County ranks in the bottom half of the state in a national health study released Tuesday.

The report, completed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, reveals 2011 health data for counties throughout the United States.

Berrien County improved its rankings from the 2010 report in both health outcomes and health factors. Berrien ranked 62nd out of 82 counties in outcomes, which looks at mortality and morbidity. The county was 48th in factors, which examines health behaviors, access to and quality of clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.

In the 2011 report, Berrien ranked 65th in outcomes and 52nd in factors.
But Nicki Britten, director of community health and planning for the Berrien County Health Department, said the improved rankings don’t necessarily mean the county is healthier.

The fact the study is only in its third year makes it difficult to see trends at this point, she said.

But Britten said the report is helpful for local health officials in other ways.
“One really good thing about this report is having the conversation on how these factors play into our health,” Britten said.

The report allows organizations, schools, policy makers and community residents see all the factors that go into a community’s health, she said.

“Berrien County struggles with a lot of the issues that are common throughout the state — unemployment issues, children in poverty, high school graduation rates,” Britten said. “These are not unique to Berrien, but they affect community health.”

According to Britten, the biggest health issue in the county highlighted in the study is adult obesity, which stands at 33 percent in Berrien.

“This is something we have noticed outside the rankings as well,” Britten said.

“It’s an issue because it underlies so many other health outcomes. It underlies diabetes, cancer and heart disease. If we could change one metric that would have the biggest impact on community health, it would be obesity.”

One positive from the rankings, according to Britten, is clinical care, in which the county ranked 27th.

“We have a fair number of primary care physicians and dentists. And that means good health care for our residents,” Britten said. “We’re definitely strong in clinical care.”

This year’s rankings include several new measures, including fast food restaurant density and levels of physical inactivity among residents.

Cass County ranked 55th in health outcomes and 51st in health factors.

For all of the statistics from the report, visit

County Health Rankings data for Berrien

Health outcomes rankings (out of 82)

Mortality 56

Morbidity 67

Health factors rankings (out of 82)

Health behaviors (smoking, obesity, STDs, etc.): 47

Clinical care: 27

Social/economic factors (graduation, unemployment, poverty): 55

Physical environment (air pollution, access to healthy food/recreation): 62