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How Healthy Is Your Town - Best and Worst

Diagnosing the well-being of 191 Chicago suburbs—and the city itself.

(page 2 of 6)

 

 

Best and Worst - 50,000+ Population

Wheaton

 

HIGH SCORE
From the vast Danada forest preserve on its south edge to the 130-acre Lincoln Marsh Natural Area on the north, Wheaton, the healthiest of Chicago’s largest suburbs, has lots of open space. That makes pursuing health easy, says Wally Kubon, a retired state employee who moved to town 11 years ago. “You see a lot of seniors out walking on the Prairie Path and other places,” Kubon says.

 

 

TOP 10
Towns for Women’s Health*

Oakbrook Terrace
Oak Brook
Olympia Fields
Park Ridge
Barrington
Palos Heights
Maywood
Flossmoor
Bloomingdale
Lake Forest

*Based on the number of physicians per capita practicing obstetrics, gynecology, and related fields.
Source: Medical Marketing Service

The path is one of an impressive array of recreational outlets maintained by the Wheaton Park District, which has been recognized with three gold medals from the National Recreation and Park Association for the quality of its facilities. Fostering good health is “a vital role for us,” says Ray Morrill, the director of recreation and special facilities for the park district. “We have the ability to reach everyone at every age.”

 

Like most Chicago suburbs its size, Wheaton has a thriving downtown business district and assorted shopping centers throughout town. But it also has a very low rate of property crime, something that is typically higher in a town with an active retail base. “That’s our church-on-every-corner history,” says Elizabeth Dee, who has lived in Wheaton for all of her 37 years. “There is still that neighborhood feeling all over town.”

Joliet

 

LOW SCORE
With casinos, a racetrack (the Chicagoland Speedway), and a growing population, Joliet has a lot to handle. But other, less visible challenges lurk here, too, particularly from the enormous concentration of heavy industry in the area. Joliet owns the dubious distinction of having the highest poundage of toxic releases of any town in the Greater Chicago area, as well as high crime rates and significant occurrences of cancer and low birth weight-which explains why the city had the lowest health score among Chicago suburbs with 50,000 residents or more.

 

Although officials in this growing Will County city can’t entirely eliminate these problems, they are working with a consortium of industry representatives to find solutions. “The two oil refineries in Will County-one not far from Joliet-spent millions of dollars to come into compliance with low-sulfur gasoline production rules in 2003, and they will do that again to meet the low-sulfur diesel rules in 2007,” says Jerry Caamano, executive director of the Joliet-based Three Rivers Manufacturers’ Association. Joliet-area industries, he says, “have made significant capital investments to meet new ozone rules,” which will go into effect by 2010 with the goal of lowering overall emissions.

To address the area’s high crime rates, Dave Gerdes, the town’s police chief, sends about 200 of his 285 police officers home with squad cars at night, which “puts a visual presence in every neighborhood.” And he notes that, over the past several years, Joliet’s city council has come up with the money to hire additional police officers. According to Gerdes, the department now has 2.17 officers per thousand citizens, and in 2004, he says, crime figures were down by half compared with rates a decade earlier.

The local public health care system will get a boost this fall when the Will County Health Department unveils a 15,000-square-foot addition to an already sizable primary care facility on Joliet’s southeast side. And this year the county facility will offer low-cost prenatal care to mothers of about 1,100 Joliet newborns.

Finally, city hall is pursuing a $42-million program that, by 2007, would purge the water supply of radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element that poses some threat to health. That would be good news to area residents, whose water system racked up 29 violations on the chart, second only to Ford Heights, with 38.

View the complete ratings for towns with 50,000 plus population

 

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