County earns high score for health

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 16, 2015

 The bike fix-it station outside the Pontiac Public Library allows cyclists to maintain their bikes on the go. The station, in addition to the bike loop, were paid for by a Building Healthy Communities grant.

The bike fix-it station outside the Pontiac Public Library allows cyclists to maintain their bikes on the go. The station, in addition to the bike loop, were paid for by a Building Healthy Communities grant.

Photo provided by the Oakland County Health Department


OAKLAND COUNTY — A new study recently revealed that Oakland County is among the healthiest counties throughout the state, ranking ninth among 82 counties, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

But Oakland County Health Officer/Manager Kathy Forzley said there’s no time to celebrate the honor. That’s because the annual study is just one indicator the county uses to analyze health, and all the data shows there’s still lots of work to be done.

“We pull it all together and see what areas we need to work on. Luckily, (this report) and our information is on the same page as to what we think are the major gaps we need to work on,” Forzley said.

The study claims that if every county in Michigan did as well as Oakland County and other top-performing counties, the state overall would have:

• 287,000 fewer smokers.

• 294,000 fewer obese adults.

• 259,000 fewer excessive drinkers.

• 167,000 fewer uninsured residents.

• 186,000 fewer children in poverty.

• 34,000 fewer violent crimes.

“Oakland County Health Division is both proactive and aggressive about tackling public health issues,” Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said in a prepared statement. “There’s no doubt that the county’s public health initiatives are improving the overall health and quality of life for our residents.”

Though Oakland County proved to be one of the healthiest counties in Michigan — in fact, Oakland took the top spot when it came to counties of comparable size and population — the community isn’t immune from common health problems that other areas around the state suffer from, including low birth weight and adult obesity.

“Adult obesity came out as a top issue, and that’s one of the things that aligns and resonates really well with the work we’re already doing to improve healthy eating in the county across all sectors,” Forzley said.

The effort has been a part of the county’s ECHO initiative, which stands for Energizing Connections for Healthier Oakland. Launched in late 2013, the program is still relatively young, but Forzley is pleased with the progress already made.

ECHO has already connected with 50 community partners to help the county address some of its top health issues.

“We can do more. We can do more to expand healthy eating in schools, eliminate the food deserts that exist in Oakland County, (encourage) employers to take on initiatives to promote healthy eating,” said Forzley.

The reason why residents don’t eat as many healthy fruits and vegetables as they should and instead rely on processed foods can vary from family to family, but the top two reasons are a lack of know-how and time.

“We’ve got Healthy Pontiac, We Can; part of that is a program for low-cost pop-up produce markets in the neighborhoods where it’s walkable for residents to get fresh produce. And it’s sustainable because people in the communities are the ones staffing it, and the money made from sales is used to purchase produce for the next week,” she said.

She also talked about ECHO’s efforts to promote nutrition education and cooking instruction, to show county residents how to properly prepare and store fresh food.

While education is often a problem in lower-income neighborhoods in Oakland County when it comes to obesity rates, in wealthier communities, the issue is often quick access to food.

“(Henry Ford West Bloomfield) has that farmers market on-site so employees can shop for fruits and vegetables before they leave work. A lot of times, people have busy days and they don’t have an extra minute to their day to get to the market,” Forzley explained. “People don’t have to guess what might make a difference for (their health) — we’re giving them evidence-based best practices they can incorporate into their home, business or agency.”

In June, ECHO is expected to roll out even more health initiatives in partnership with the growing coalition. To learn more, visit the Oakland County Health Division at