TUSCOLA — How did a county with an outlet mall — but without a hospital — get chosen this year's healthiest place to live in Illinois?
Parents, schools, doctors and the health department work together here, said Susan Hays, director of nursing at the Douglas County Health Department.
"Because we don't have resources available to us, we work together very well as a community," she said.
Douglas County ranked first in the state in the national county health rankings released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The rankings are intended to help communities lay the groundwork for making health improvements, the organizations said.
Douglas County moved up on the list this year from its ranking of seventh place in the state last year.
Champaign County also moved up a bit on the state list, from 26th in 2012 to 23rd this year.
Vermilion County remained near rock bottom in Illinois, moving down a spot from 95th to 96th among the state's 102 counties.
Hays said Douglas County's place in the rankings "makes us feel good, but we know we can always do better."
Health officials see room for improvement, especially in the areas of obesity and physical activity, she said.
The health department is looking at ways area towns can work together to foster more safe walking opportunities, Hays said.
"We're a rural community, so people can walk wherever they want without getting run over, but there are things we can do to make it better," she said.
Vermilion County Health Department Administrator Shirley Hicks said she wasn't surprised to see her community's overall health ranked so low.
"When this comes out, it seems like it's the big revelation, but it's not," she said.
Vermilion County's road to 96th on the list was paved by a higher-than-average rate of premature deaths and some unhealthy habits that exceeded state and national numbers, among them rates of adult smoking, adult obesity, physical inactivity and sexually transmitted infections.
Childhood obesity is "an enormous challenge for the community," Hicks said, and the teen pregnancy rate has always been an issue for Vermilion County.
The health department is aware of issues behind the data and looking at ways to address them, but people also need to take personal responsibility for their health and realize their habits affect them and their children now and in the future, she said.
"I'll start with me; you start with you," she said.
Champaign-Urbana Public District Administrator Julie Pryde said the annual survey is another way of measuring, and she's happy to see Champaign County rank near the top.
"I'm always glad to see that we're up there, and I'm glad to see that Douglas is up there as well, because it's better for all of us if the counties around us are up there as well," she said.
Pryde said she'd like to see Champaign County improve on access to recreational facilities, including better-built walking and bicycling trails, and access to healthy foods.
But she also said there are efforts under way with community gardening and healthy community living initiatives launched under the "We Choose Health" grant the health district received last year fall in line with data identified in the health rankings report.
Some county comparisons from the data:
— Adult smoking rate: Champaign, 16 percent; Vermilion, 27 percent; Douglas, 13 percent; Illinois, 19 percent.
— Poor or fair health: Champaign, 11 percent; Vermilion, 18 percent; Douglas, 4 percent, Illinois, 15 percent.
— Teen birth rate per 1,000 girls ages 15-19: Champaign, 21; Vermilion, 60; Douglas, 32; Illinois, 38.
— Uninsured under age 65: Champaign, 15 percent; Vermilion, 14 percent; Douglas, 17 percent, Illinois, 16 percent.
— Children living in poverty: Champaign: 21 percent; Vermilion, 31 percent; Douglas, 16 percent, Illinois, 21 percent.
— Violent crime rate per 100,000 people: Champaign, 643; Vermilion, 542; Douglas, 115, Illinois, 486.
— Preventable hospital stays: Champaign, 61; Vermilion, 100; Douglas, 77; Illinois, 75.
— Adult obesity: Champaign, 27 percent; Vermilion, 29 percent; Douglas: 30 percent, Illinois, 27 percent.
— Physical inactivity: Champaign, 25 percent; Vermilion, 31 percent; Douglas, 29 percent; Illinois; 25 percent.
— Excessive drinking: Champaign, 17 percent; Vermilion, 19 percent; Douglas, 12 percent; Illinois, 20 percent.
— Premature death (years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 population): Champaign, 5,480; Vermilion, 9,249; Douglas, 5,372; Illinois, 6,604.
To find your county data: http://www.countyhealthrankings.org