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Pierce County’s Picture of Health: 2018 County Health Rankings

One of my family’s Thanksgiving traditions is tricky jigsaw puzzles—a field of red tulips or a hundred cats that look alike. We spend days trying to finish it, and cheer when we place a key puzzle piece that sheds new light on the picture. As we put more and more pieces into place, the whole picture is finally revealed. Success! 

We can think of Pierce County’s health as a puzzle, too. Each data report or health survey gives us a few pieces of the puzzle to fit together to fully understand the picture of health in our county. We can’t see the entire picture until many puzzle pieces are put in place. The 2018 County Health Rankings for Pierce County give us some of the key pieces.

Pierce County’s 2018 health picture

In the 2018 rankings, Pierce County is in the middle on overall health—19 out of 38—compared with other counties in Washington state. In the past Pierce County ranked in the mid- to low-20s. So, it looks like Pierce County’s health has improved. Good news! Not so fast. Let’s look at other pieces of this puzzle.

On the plus side, we see real improvements in the percent of Pierce County residents who have health insurance. We’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll continue to see more and more residents with health insurance, which will start impacting access to health care in a good way. The teen birth rate also decreased, which we hope will lead to improvements in birth outcomes. 

Most health factors in the rankings stayed the same from 2017 to 2018. Some got worse. For example, the rate of sexually transmitted infections and access to exercise opportunities. When we look at many County Health Rankings puzzle pieces, we realize that the decline of other counties’ picture of health pushed Pierce County higher. Because other counties are doing worse, Pierce County looks better. 

We also have a data lag. The 2018 County Health Rankings use data mainly from 2014 to 2016, with some measures dating back to 2010. These data are really telling us what the picture of health for Pierce County looked like a few years back. 

An imperfect picture: What the rankings don’t show

All data reports and health surveys have limitations and are incomplete pictures of health. To get the complete picture of Pierce County’s health, we need to look at all the puzzle pieces—multiple health rankings, data reports and health survey results. 

For example, we know that where we live matters to our health. The Health Department’s health equity assessment includes more than 50 maps that show health outcomes and factors by zip code or census tract. We see quite a few differences from community to community—more pieces of the puzzle. 

More puzzle pieces come from the Pierce County Health Indicators list. This data set shows trends among many health factors and whether Pierce County is getting better or worse. Pierce County’s Healthy Youth Survey results give us a glimpse of how healthy young people in our communities are. 

As we gather more pieces of the puzzle, we better understand where the greatest needs are and how we can best make progress together toward better health.  Just like each of us can take steps to improve our personal health—regardless of how healthy we are today—all of us can take steps to improve our county’s health, no matter where we rank. It’s not a race to the top. It is about progress toward better health.

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