Rankings show average health across Northeast Michigan

News Photo by Michael Gonzalez Joanne Grosh and Mary Jo Milostan walk down the Alpena Bi-Path on M-32 on Friday afternoon.

ALPENA — Northeast Michigan’s four-county area has a mixed bag of results when it comes to a wide range of health indicators, according to the latest county health rankings data.

County Health Rankings — a University of Wisconsin-based program, which measures the health of nearly every county in all 50 U.S. states — shows in its recent 2023 report that Alpena County is ranked 36th out of Michigan’s 83 counties in health outcomes — factors that represent how healthy a county is currently in terms of factors such as length of life and quality of life.

Additionally, Alcona County is ranked 66th, Montmorency County is 69th and Presque Isle County is ranked 43rd in the same category.

Alpena County is in the higher middle range of health outcomes, ranging between 50% to 75%. Alcona and Montmorency counties are ranked among the least healthy counties in Michigan, with health outcomes ranging between 0% to 25%.

Presque Isle’s health outcomes rank falls between 25% to 50%.

While Alpena County is in the latter half of the rankings, it shows average or slightly above average health, both mental and physical, for residents.

Most notably, statistics show that in Alpena County access to exercise opportunities have sharply decreased and alcohol-impaired driving deaths have dramatically increased within the past three years.

Access to exercise has decreased in Alpena County from 75% in 2021, 57% in 2022, and is at 53% this year. For the five years previous, Alpena fell between 75% to 77%.

In Alcona and Montmorency counties, access to exercise opportunities are at 69% and 15%, respectively. Presque Isle was lower than Alpena at a percentage of 41%.

These trends are also seen in alcohol-impaired driving deaths. From 2020 to 2021, Alpena County’s average spiked from 33% to 50%, respectively. In 2022 and 2023, the average was 44%.

While the average has decreased by 6% since 2021, it is still at a place that medical professionals hope to see improvement in.

The three other counties were still higher this year, with Alcona at 50%, Montmorency at 63%, and Presque Isle at 56%.

On Alpena County’s exercise opportunities, Joshua Meyerson, medical director of District Health Department No. 4, said he’s unsure of the reasoning for this dip, but speculated it could be from the county’s varied environments and lower population.

The 2023 study found that 53% of people lived close to a park or recreation facility.

“Alpena is the biggest county in Northeast Michigan,” Meyerson said. “(The city of Alpena) has excellent access to sidewalks and bike trails, while the rural roads – it might be harder to go on walks. In the winter times, it especially requires transportation and it could create a barrier to people in those rural areas.”

On the topic of alcohol-impaired driving deaths, Meyerson said this is an issue in northern area Michigan. Because of the need for cars to go from one place to another, many people find it harder to find ways of transportation otherwise.

Meyerson also pointed to smaller populations as a possible cause of inflated averages. This means if even one more person dies from an alcohol-related crash, it can significantly increase the numbers.

Meyerson said if any residents of the northeast counties have issues they wish to see addressed, DHD4 is holding a regional listening session to hear community feedback. The event takes place on Aug. 1 at 6 p.m. at 2118 U.S.-23 South.

“We believe that our communities know their own needs best and can produce real solutions for improvements that grow an overall sense of resilience,” Denise Bryan, DHD4 health officer, said about the event.


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