Report: We’re healthy in Kitsap, comparatively

We’re pretty healthy here in Kitsap County.

Among the state’s counties, Kitsap ranks second for health factors and sixth for health outcomes, the Kitsap Public Health District reports. Factors influence future health while outcomes measure current health. In last year’s rankings, Kitsap was ninth and fourth.

“It is gratifying to see Kitsap once again recognized as one of the healthiest counties in our state and nation,” KPHD health officer Dr. Gib Morrow said. “However, we know that our community still faces significant gaps in healthcare services and inequitable health outcomes. We must continue working together to create a Kitsap where everyone can be safe and healthy.”

University of Wisconsin-Madison produces nationwide county rankings each year. The rankings are intended to broaden the public’s understanding of the many factors that affect the health of communities. While useful as a call to action and educational tool, the County Health Rankings have limitations. For example, the 2023 report is largely based on data from 2020, meaning the rankings reflect health indicators from the first year of COVID rather than current conditions.

County Health Rankings data identified several areas where Kitsap ranked higher than the state and national averages. Highlights included: Quality of life, with a low percentage with fair or poor health; low rate reporting no physical activity; low rate of uninsured residents and preventable hospital stays; high rate of high school completion and low rate of income inequality; low air pollution and a low percentage commuting more than 30 minutes.

The rankings also called attention to areas where Kitsap ranked below state and national averages: smoking; binge drinking; and adult obesity; along with disparities between population groups for infant birthweights, injury deaths, children living in poverty and more.

As Morrow said, despite the high rankings there are plenty of concerns. KPHD is embarking on a Community Health Assessment that will draw from data and community feedback to create a more comprehensive picture of health trends locally. It will lead to processes for improving health. KPHD has also contracted with the John Hopkins Center for Health Security to conduct a comprehensive study on local healthcare systems to identify opportunities to close gaps in services and improve access to care.

Morrow’s take

Morrow writes in a follow-up email that the rankings show Kitsap has a good baseline for quality of life, but “shouldn’t be viewed as a perfect snapshot of health in our county. We are constantly working to address a multitude of issues affecting the health of Kitsap residents.” But that “doesn’t mean our county is an unhealthy place to live.”

In areas where Kitsap ranks low, Morrow says the problems are vast and complex. Issues such as obesity, smoking, drinking, etc., “do not occur in isolation.” He also says that “seeking help is not easy” and “reversing lifelong habits is not easy.

“People need support, education, encouragement, and systems that make it possible to get the help they need where and when they need it,” he says.

State snapshot

Washington as a state ranks better than the national average in many areas of health, including premature death.

Under quality of life, the state ranks better in poor physical health and low birth weight, the same for poor or fair health, and a little higher in poor mental health days. Regarding health factors, the state ranks better in smoking, obesity, physical activity, excessive drinking, teen births and sexually transmitted infections. However, it ranks lower in alcohol-impaired driving deaths and access to exercise.

Under clinical care, the state ranks better than the national average on: number of insured, primary doctors and dentists. It ranks lower in flu vaccinations and mammograms. It ranks a lot better with mental health providers: 220 to one, compared with 340 to one.

Under social and economic factors, it ranks better in every category but social associations: high school completion, some college, unemployment, children in poverty, income inequality, children in single-family households, social associations and injury deaths. Regarding physical environment, the state ranks better in air pollution and driving alone to work, and the same in long commute and severe housing problems.

Kitsap snapshot

As mentioned before, the county ranks better than the nation and state in most of the areas mentioned in the previous snapshot.

It does have more premature deaths and poor physical health days. It also has more smoking and obesity and excessive drinking, but is much better in physical activity and sexually transmitted diseases.

In an area the KPHD is trying to improve it is much worse than the state and even the nation in access to primary care physicians. It is much better in income inequality and air pollution. An analysis of the report by KPHD, shows worsening trends compared to previous reports include: more sexually transmitted diseases; too few doctors; too few mammograms; unchanged trend for jobless and children in poverty.

Other reports

Virginia Mason Franciscan Health’s St. Michael Medical Center in Silverdale also does a Community Health Needs Assessment each year. The priority health needs identified by CHNA are: affordable housing, healthcare access, obesity-health eating-active living, substance use and well-being.

It shows Bainbridge Island has the most residents with a high school education at 92%, followed by North Kitsap at 74%, Central Kitsap and 72%, Bremerton at 69% and South Kitsap at 65%. BI also has the lowest unemployment at 3.3%, NK at 4.7%, CK at 5.3%, and Bremerton and SK both at 6.7%. BI is highest in income with $109,341, followed by NK at $75,904, CK at $71,035, SK at $67,853 and Bremerton at $51,756. For those living in poverty, BI is at 5%, CK and NK both at 7%, SK at 12% and Bremerton at 17%. As for being overweight and obesity, SK has the highest rate at 67% followed by CK at 65%, BI at 60%, and NK and Bremerton are both at 57%.

The suicide rate has been increasing in Kitsap since 2000. There were 41 in 2018. However, motor vehicle deaths have been decreasing during that same time span. Crime rate is also important to a community’s health. Kitsap has an overall rate of 73 crimes per 1,000 residents, but Port Orchard is the highest at 100, followed by Bremerton at 94 per 1,000. Poulsbo is at 51 and BI at 26. As for smoking, Bremerton has the highest rate at 21%, followed by SK at 20%, CK at 18%, NK at 11% and BI at 9%.

To conclude the report, CHNA lists four priority areas and what it’s doing to improve on them: Barriers to access to care, mental health distress, infant mortality and adequate prenatal care and obesity.