Access to healthcare, quality food and exercise opportunities factor into Johnson County being named ‘healthiest in Kansas’

Shoppers on the hunt for fresh produce at the Lenexa Farmers Market. A healthy food environment factors in to Johnson County’s rank as the healthiest county in the state.

The 2019 installation of the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report finds that Johnson County remains the “healthiest in Kansas.”

The 10th annual report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute finds that Johnson County tops the 102 counties in Kansas in both health outcomes and the social, economic and environmental factors that impact population health — dubbed “health factors” in the report.

The report cites the high number of people — 85 percent — who commute to work alone as a potential threat to air quality and risk for traffic accidents.

Among the drivers behind the county’s top ranking are access to quality healthcare, food and exercise options. Those factors have helped contributed to a relatively low number of premature deaths. (Premature deaths are defined in the report as lives lost before the age of 75.)

Lougene Marsh, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, suggested that Johnson County’s housing options — often near quality schools and parks — played a significant role in the positive outcomes.

“When our homes are near quality schools and good jobs, it’s easier to get a quality education and earn living wages. When people live near grocery stores where nutritious food is available and affordable, eating healthy is easier. Green spaces and parks encourage active lifestyles,” Marsh said in a statement.

The report did identify obesity, alcohol consumption and smoking as potential threats to the county’s health at large. Moreover, a very high percentage of residents driving alone to get to work has a negative effect on air quality and increases the risk of traffic accidents, say the authors.

Still, Marsh was quick to credit county leaders with planning and policies that support strong health outcomes.

“Our high ranking reflects the priority this county has placed on improving the factors that affect residents’ health, and it also shows how important it will be for us to sustain those programs if we want to stay healthy,” Marsh said.

Meanwhile, neighboring Wyandotte County came in near the bottom of the rankings in both categories, finishing 99th in health outcomes and 102nd in health factors.