Summit County had a better year in its annual health checkup, inching a few notches above its 2017 ranking average in the state.

The community finished 46th out of 88 Ohio counties in the new “County Health Rankings & Roadmaps” report released Wednesday.

Summit improved four spots from its 50th ranking last year and 52nd in 2016; in the previous four years, however, it had been ranked in the 40s.

Medina County continues to rank highly, moving up to be the fourth healthiest county in the state from fifth the year before. Stark County also improved, up to 42nd from 45th. Two counties in the region, Portage and Wayne, did worse this year. Portage fell from 27th to 31st and Wayne from 12th to 15th.

The ninth annual study, done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, determines the rankings for counties nationwide. The researchers use a variety of data to come to its conclusions for the overall health rankings and also “health factors,” including tobacco use, exercise, access to medical care, educational levels, income, safety and housing conditions.

Here are the county rankings for health factors: Summit 44th, up from 48th last year; Medina fifth, down from fourth; Portage 24th, up from 25th; Stark, 39th, up from 40th and Wayne, which stayed steady at 13th in the state for two years.

Rankings can go up and down year to year, said Kate Konkle, an associate researcher with the Population Health Institute, but more telling are the snapshots in the various subcategories.

In looking at Summit County’s rates of premature death before the age of 75, for instance, Konkle said two red flags would be the rise to the top 5 of what’s categorized as accidents or unintentional injuries, which can include drug overdoses and also deaths by intentional self-harm or suicides.

The accidents or unintentional injuries stayed at No. 3 for Summit County and suicides rose from No. 6 in 2017 to No. 5 in 2018.

Accidents and suicides tend to fall to a younger population, said Konkle, though those two items being in the top five mirror other parts of the state and country.

Those findings do not surprise Cory Kendricks, director of population health for Summit County Public Health.

“Now especially with the opioid epidemic, accidents have increased to the top in most communities,” he said.

Kendricks and his colleague, the department’s Chief Epidemiologist Rich Maroonis, said the county uses its own data, which can sometimes be more up to date than the study’s figures, to get accurate snapshots of the county’s health.

Still, being able to see how Summit County ranks compared to other counties in the state can help the department focus on trends and where to focus its resources, Kendricks said.

The rankings show that where you live influences how well and how long you live, researchers said.

They pointed to key drivers such as children in poverty, saying children in poverty are less likely to have access to well-resourced and quality schools and have fewer chances to be prepared for living wage jobs.

Summit County came in at 20 percent, the same as both the Ohio and national rate of children in poverty. When broken down by race, 12 percent of white children in Summit were living in poverty compared to 46 percent of black children and 21 percent of Hispanic children.

Konkle said “we have seen the peak of children in poverty — during the Great Recession — has started to reverse, but it has not returned to pre-recession levels in most communities.” Maroonis said findings are similar in Summit County.

For more details and to check out all of the rankings, go to www.countyhealthrankings.org

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty