A closeup of a beam scale in New York.

Umatilla County fell and Morrow County improved in a national report that scrutinizes health behaviors.

Umatilla County dropped from 15th to 20th of Oregon’s 36 counties in the annual County Health Rankings, released Tuesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Morrow County rose from 19th to ninth.

The report is a snapshot in time in health outcomes such as premature death, low birthweight and poor physical/mental health days.

Along with outcomes, researchers considered health factors such obesity, smoking, binge drinking, physical activity, sexually transmitted diseases, teen births and other behaviors to discover which counties are healthy and which are lagging behind. In that part of the report, the results were more grim. Umatilla remained at 32nd and Morrow dropped one to 21.

Both counties are getting fatter.

In Umatilla County, 35 percent of residents are obese, up from 33 percent in 2018 and 26 percent in 2012. A third of Morrow County residents are obese, up from 31 percent last year. The state averages 28 percent.

“Obesity has crept up,” said Ericka Burroughs-Girardi, a spokeswoman for the Healthy Counties Rankings.

In Umatilla County, sexually transmitted diseases are a cause for concern, with 395 cases of newly diagnosed chlamydia for every 100,000 people. Twenty percent of Umatilla County children live in poverty, compared with the state’s 17 percent.

Smoking stayed steady at 18 percent of adults. The percentage of driving deaths that involved alcohol rose from 26 to 30 percent.

The county saw improvement in other categories. Teen births dropped from 44 births (per 1,000 females aged 15-19) to 41, though even with the drop, Umatilla is second-highest in the state.

The percentage of uninsured residents dropped from 11 to 10 percent. The high school graduation rate climbed from 71 to 76 percent.

There is one doctor for every 2,180 residents in Umatilla County.

In Morrow County, the ratio is one-to-3,760.

Those numbers worry Umatilla County Public Health Director Joe Fiumara.

“I have a sense that this number is actually higher than when the data was collected,” he said. “We have a hard time getting and keeping providers.”

About the full report, Fiumara said Umatilla County has stayed pretty level since last year. He suspects that other counties’ improvements actually caused the drop in Umatilla’s health outcome rank.

“There’s not anything here that’s a surprise to us,” he said. “We just keep plugging along and keep trying to improve these metrics.”

This year’s report also studied housing and its relationship to health.

In Oregon, many households spend more than half of their income on housing costs. That leaves fewer dollars to use for health.

“Seventeen percent of families in Oregon spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent or mortgage payments,” Burroughs-Birardi said. “Black families are more impacted at 34 percent. These families have less money to spend on other necessities like utilities, health care, healthy food and other supports for a healthy lifestyle. There is a direct tie to health outcomes.”

Umatilla and Morrow counties did slightly better, with 11 and eight percent of households that spent more than half their income on rent or mortgages.

The main causes of premature death in both counties were cancer, heart disease, accidents and respiratory disease.

Burroughs-Girardi urged people to take charge of their health.

“These things are modifiable,” she said. “These things (except for accidents) can be changed with diet and exercise.”

Statewide, Washington County ranked the healthiest, followed by Benton, Hood River and Clackamas.

Klamath County took the bottom spot.

To see the entire report, go to

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