HANFORD – Kings County came out better in a number of health categories compared to surrounding counties, according to a report released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The report, entitled "2017 County Health Rankings," has Kings with the best outcome in 13 statistical categories compared to Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties: Premature death rates, birth weights, adult obesity rates, physical inactivity rates, the percent of driving deaths attributable to alcohol, chlamydia rates, the percent of the population with health insurance, the ratio of dentists to population, the percent of children in poverty, income inequality, air pollution, housing problems and the percent of the population that drives alone to work.

In the category of overall health outcomes, Kings ranked 37th out of 58 counties in the state, which was significantly better than Fresno County (52nd), Tulare County (50th) and Kern County (53rd).

The main reason for the difference is that Kings had a much lower premature death rate than Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties.

The rate was determined by adding up all the years of potential life lost for all the people residing in Kings who died before the age of 75.

Kings County had a cumulative total of 6,300 years of potential life lost compared to 6,900 for Tulare and Fresno counties and 7,500 for Kern County.

"It's obviously positive news," said Keith Winkler, Kings County Department of Public Health director.

Winkler, noting that Kings has some of the same socio-economic challenges as surrounding counties, said he's not sure why Kings came out with the lower premature death rate.

"I really don't have any information to do more than speculate as to why that might be," he said.

"We're thrilled to see positive data coming from Kings County," said Rebecca Russell, community wellness director for Adventist Health Central Valley Network. "At this time, we want to thoroughly understand where the data is coming from so that we can best speak to it."

Russell said she didn't have time to fully research the report by press deadline Wednesday.

Winkler suggested that one of the reasons Kings did better in so many statistical categories is that "we have a good network of primary care clinics in the county."

Winkler noted that Adventist Health, Family HealthCare Network and other organizations have clinics spread out throughout the county's rural areas.

He said that many lower-income rural residents in Kings are enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state's health insurance program for the poor.

"I think the availability of primary care and insurance coverage are probably significant factors," Winkler said.

He noted, however, than in the areas where Kings has the edge over surrounding counties, it is only has a slight edge.

In the overall California county rankings for quality of life, health factors, health behaviors, teen birth rates, preventable hospital stays, socio-economic factors and environmental factors – each of which is a compilation of several statistical measurements – Kings ranked more closely with surrounding counties.

"We know what our socio-economic challenges are in the [San Joaquin] Valley," Winkler said. "I think this report just reinforces that."

Russell said better cooperation among different agencies in Kings might explain why the county is doing slightly better than the larger surrounding counties in several statistical measurements.

She noted Kings Partnership for Prevention, a coalition of Kings County nonprofit agencies that encourages healthful living.

"There are a number of collaborations in Kings where multiple groups are working together to improve the health of the county," she said. "I'm not aware that other counties have something this similar."

The report includes data ranging from 2009 to 2016, depending on the category. Different data sets from different combinations of years were used for different categories.

Based on new data that wasn't included in the report, Kings might be slipping in some categories.

For example, Kings saw 596 cases of chlamydia in 2014, the year from which the report gathered its data on sexually transmitted infections.

However, according to local health officials, that number had climbed to 800 cases by 2016. 

The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432.