Top 5 healthiest and unhealthiest counties in Michigan

Mar 30, 2011

A new study says Ottawa County is the healthiest county in Michigan. The county borders Lake Michigan’s shore directly west of Grand Rapids.

Marcia Knoll is a community health analyst at Ottawa County’s Health Department. She says the department does not take credit for the county’s “healthiest” rating. Knoll says there are many organizations, churches and people working together to keep the community healthy.

“Instead of standing like silos, each with our own agenda and our own territory. So that’s not the environment here, that’s not the culture here and I think that has stood us well in the struggles and with our health care.”

The study was done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It looks at a number of measures that affect a community’s health; how many people smoke, are overweight, and have access to fresh, healthy foods.

Five healthiest counties

  1. Ottawa
  2. Lenenaw
  3. Livingston
  4. Washtenaw
  5. Alger

Five unhealthiest counties

  1. Clare
  2. Wayne
  3. Lake
  4. Ontonagon
  5. Alcona

Researcher Julie Willems Van Dijk helped conduct the study. She says individual health behaviors, like exercising, and socio-economic factor have a stronger influence on community health than access to medical care.

“Now I know when you’re sick, you want to have access to care and you want to have the best care in the world. But if we really want to think about what we can do from keeping us from getting sick, these are the things that we need to look at in our communities.”

Clare County, in the middle of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, was the state’s unhealthiest county for the second year in a row. But Willems Van Dijk says they’ve been undertaking a major effort to improve their community’s health. They've used Clare County as a case study in the video below.

The Rankings reveal that all counties have areas where they can improve, even those that are the healthiest. Some highlights of what counties look like nationally:

People are nearly twice as likely to be in fair or poor health in the unhealthiest counties;

  • Unhealthy counties have significantly lower high school graduation rates;
  • Unhealthy counties have more than twice as many children in poverty;
  • Unhealthy counties have much fewer grocery stores or farmer’s markets;  and
  • Unhealthy counties have much higher rates of unemployment

Click here for the complete study and a map showing how your community stacks up.