MADISON (NBC 26) — Wisconsin received a C grade for overall health of people living in the state, according to a recent report by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The state’s overall population health grade is assessed by two categories, length and quality of life. Wisconsin’s scored a grade of C in both in the 2021 Wisconsin Population Health and Equity Report Card, which was released in March 2022.
The institute has issued the Report Card every three years since 2007, with a pause after 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other graded metrics assess health disparities among populations across geographic regions, racial or ethnic groups and levels of educational attainment. In Wisconsin, most of these areas received grades of D or F.
The grades reflect a wide variation in who is, or is not, living long and well in Wisconsin, according to Paula Tran, senior health equity advisor, UW Population Health Institute.
"Some groups are not faring as well as others, so we see pretty stark disparities across groups," Tran said. "So across race and place and education levels, we see individuals that are lacking in opportunity also have poor health overall."
The Report Card provides recommendations in addition to grades. It focuses on five priority areas for policies and practices that can be implemented at state and local levels to advance equity, including ensuring access to quality health care, expanding safe and affordable housing, increasing economic resources for children and families, expanding broadband infrastructure and increasing civic engagement.
"For rural communities, we see challenges related to accessing quality care, challenges related to supports that can get them to the resources they need to be well like getting to health care, transportation challenges is one issue, broadband challenges is another," Tran said. "So I think for rural communities, there are lots of opportunities to strengthen our infrastructure and conditions to make sure our rural residents can access the resources they need."
As families have struggled to make ends meet, recent data show that 13.5% of Wisconsin’s children live in poverty, with the highest child poverty rates in Milwaukee and rural areas, 24% and 15%, respectively, according to the Report Card.
Barriers to economic opportunity that impact health, such as availability of living-wage jobs, safe and affordable housing and access to services and medical care, exist in both rural and urban areas of Wisconsin.
"We are increasingly seeing more people saying that they have poor or fair health, so they're not saying that they have great health," Tran said. "We used to be a bit stronger in Wisconsin historically overall, and that is declining over time."
The Report Card describes a variety of evidence-informed policy approaches, including expanding affordable health care coverage through BadgerCare Plus, the 2021 Child Tax Credit or Earned Income Tax Credit.
"Overall we're seeing some decreases and overall length of life, on average," Tran said. "And then for very specific groups, we're seeing that gap being magnified. And that is also related to how well people live."
The focus of the Report Card’s priority areas emerged from the statewide outreach and engagement of the Population Health Institute’s Mobilizing Action Towards Community Health group, which aims to change practice, focus priorities and shift power to support shared action on root causes of health and equity.
The Report Card also describes Wisconsin communities awarded Wisconsin Healthy Communities Designations by the MATCH group that highlight real-time action to improve health and equity.
The 2021 Report Card was made possible by funding from the Wisconsin Partnership Program.