PINEDALE – U.S. News and World Report released its 2021 Healthiest Communities list on June 29. Sublette County made the top 20, ranked the 12th in the U.S.
Number crunchers at U.S. News and World Report examined 3,000 counties using 84 metrics grouped into 10 “health-related categories.” Statisticians consulted with “more than a dozen experts in population health and well being,” the article stated, to weigh each category’s importance to public health.
Sources ranged from a variety of federal agencies, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency among others. Studies from academic institutions like the University of Wisconsin and Princeton University were also used.
Various economic and housing indicators are from 2019 census data and do not reflect the economic fallout from COVID-19.
Sublette County performed well in categories like public safety, the environment and food and nutrition. Despite its overall high ranking, the county scored low on population health, the economy and infrastructure.
Top 25 counties
Sublette was one of two Wyoming counties to make the top 25 healthiest counties. Teton County came in at 13th.
The healthiest county in America, according to the report, was Los Alamos County, N.M.
Nine of the top 25 healthiest counties were located in the Rocky Mountain West. Five were in Mid-Atlantic states, including four in the Washington, D.C., metro area.
Six counties were in the Midwest, two in New England and one in the Pacific Northwest.
Sublette County scored 71 percent out of 100 on overall health, dropping the county to 275th in the nation.
Individuals in the community are generally healthy. Cancer rates and the number of preventable admissions to a hospital in Sublette County were nearly half the average rate in the U.S. and well below the state average.
Heart disease was also below the national and state average. Sublette County’s life expectancy of 82.9 years was significantly higher than the national life expectancy at 77.5 years and 79.1 years in Wyoming.
The rankings penalized Sublette County for access to health care, particularly the lack of hospital beds. The number of primary care physicians per 1,000 people in Sublette County was 0.7, below 0.9 nationwide and 1.2 statewide.
Mental health outcomes in Sublette County were mixed. The community reported below-average rates of depression and frequent mental health distress.
“Deaths by despair,” defined as death due to suicide, alcohol misuse and drug overdose, stood at 50.6 per 100,000 people in Sublette County – lower than the state average at 56.2 but above the national average of 43.3.
U.S. News and World Report analysts added an equity category in 2021 to determine disparities between racial/ethnic groups in terms of access to education, health care and income equality.
Sublette County received a 90 percent on equity, ninth in the nation. Due to the county’s small population size, many of the indicators in this category were not available for the community.
On the only indicators measured in Sublette County – income inequality and the disability employment gap – the community performed significantly better than the nation and state.
Sublette County’s education score came in at 49 percent, 425th in the nation. The study noted Sublette County’s exceptional high school graduation rate at 96.6 percent, well above the national median of 89.3 percent and 81.9 percent statewide. High spending per pupil was also a highlight.
The low scores were primarily in the education infrastructure category. The study rated the counties on available childcare programs and gave Sublette County a 0. Looking closely at the fine print, the study only counted federal Head Start programs. Statisticians left out the diverse early childhood and preschool centers and programs in the county, many offering scholarship programs.
Access to schools was also an issue in the study. Fifty-two percent of school-age children lived within 5 miles of a school, versus 86 percent across Wyoming and 80.6 percent nationwide.
U.S. News and World Report rated Sublette County’s economic health 348th in the nation at 60 percent. Statisticians noted a high median income – $77,403 in Sublette County compared to $51,758 in the U.S. and $64,049 in Wyoming. The county’s poverty rate, at 10.2 percent, was below the statewide median of 11 percent and national average of 14.2 percent.
Business growth in the county was rated above the national average and slightly below figures for the state.
The county scored poorly on job opportunities. Sublette County scored .14 on job diversity, with 1 indicating numerous jobs in a variety of industries and 0 indicating no job diversity. The nation scored .74 and Wyoming was at 0.59.
Sublette County reported an average of 355 jobs within a 45-minute commute, compared to an average of 4,934 jobs nationwide and 6,495 jobs statewide within 45 minutes.
Sublette County did relatively well in housing at 78 percent, ranked 45th in the nation. The study highlighted a near-zero eviction rate and a below-average shortfall in affordable housing. The figures on housing predate the pandemic, however, and do not reflect the volatility in real estate locally and across the nation.
Sublette County received high points on housing quality, with only 0.1 percent of homes vacant, compared to 2.2 percent in the U.S. and 4.2 percent in Wyoming. There were no homes with incomplete plumbing in the county, according to the study.
Food and nutrition
Sublette County scored 81 percent in food and nutrition, ranking it 39th in the nation. Sublette County was home to 10 local food outlets offering health food per 100,000 people, compared to 9.4 in Wyoming and 4.3 in the nation.
Diabetes prevalence in Sublette County was 7.7 percent, below the national median of 10.5 percent and statewide average at 7.9 percent. Obesity prevalence, 26.8 percent in Sublette County, was also below the national average at 35.5 percent and 28.9 percent in Wyoming.
Plentiful sunshine, clean air and drinking water, access to parks and outdoor recreation and few days of extreme heat (extreme cold was not considered) in Sublette County led to a score of 92 percent in environment, 11th in the nation.
Sublette County came in eighth in the nation for public safety at 89 percent. Violent and property crime rates were well below the national and state average. Per-capita spending on health and emergency services stood at $1,851, versus $359 in then U.S. and $528 in Wyoming.
Two percent of people in Sublette County were “public safety professionals,” including law enforcement and firefighting, compared to only 0.7 percent in Wyoming and the nation.
The study did note a high rage of vehicle crash fatalities in Sublette County at 22.8 deaths/100,000 population. The national rate was 17.5 and 22.5 in Wyoming.
This category measured stability and civic participation. Sublette County scored 63 percent, 175th in the nation.
Homeownership rates before the pandemic, 82.1 percent in Sublette County, were higher than the national median, 72.9 percent, and state average, 70.4 percent.
The net migration rate showed a 5.1 percent decrease in population between 2008-2009 and 2017-2018, higher than a statewide decrease of 1.9 percent and national drop of 0.3 percent.
Sublette County’s voter participation rate stood at 67.6 percent, compared to 66 percent in the U.S. and 63.9 percent in Wyoming.
The number of local nonprofits, 103.4 per 100,000 population, was much higher than the national rate (43) and state average (67.6).
Sublette County was 368th in the nation in infrastructure. The county did relatively well in broadband internet access, above the national and state median.
Sublette County’s walkability score was 6.4 (higher scores mean better pedestrian safety), compared to 7.4 in Wyoming and 6.4 nationwide.
Less than 1 percent of households in Sublette County lacked a vehicle, versus 3.9 percent in Wyoming and 5.6 percent in the U.S.
Sublette County took a hit on long commutes. Nearly 13 percent of the population commuted more than 60 minutes, compared to 5.6 percent in Wyoming and 6.8 percent in the U.S.