Van Buren is one of five counties in Arkansas with a high level of youth and young adults ages 16 to 24 who are not in school and not working, which is described as youth disconnect, in the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, County Health Rankings Key Findings 2017.

It is the eighth year for the nationwide report which provides a snapshot of how healthy the nation is by county and the ways communities are working to improve health, but 2017 is the first year the youth disconnect measurement has been included in the report.

Why is youth employment and education being included in a health report?

Youth disconnect has health and economic consequences for the community. Youth disconnect is higher in rural areas and these same areas also have high rates of teen births, single-parent households, child poverty, and lower levels of educational attainment.

According to the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services' Local Area Unemployment Statistics report from April, the unemployment rate in Van Buren County is about five percent, which is higher compared to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' statewide average of 3.4 percent as of May.

It's a possible indicator of less part-time jobs for teens and young adults in areas such as clerical or food service, because older members of the workforce are either in, or seeking those jobs. This lack of employment for teens isn't just a lack of income. It's a missed opportunity to learn some of the life lessons only a first job can teach and the new measurement points out something many rural folks already know: keeping young people busy can keep them out of trouble.

Among Arkansas' 75 counties, Van Buren ranks 25th in health outcomes, which measures how healthy residents currently are; but ranks 51st in health factors, which measures opportunities for residents to be healthy in the future.

In the demographic breakdown for Van Buren County, the report found that about 21 percent of the population smokes, 36 percent of the adults are considered obese, and 33 percent of the population is physically inactive.

Van Buren County outpaced the state average in other areas. The report found only 12 percent of the population drinks excessively compared to 15 percent statewide, 17 percent are involved in social associations compared to 12 percent statewide, and 91 percent of the population are high school graduates, compared to 85 percent statewide.

The featured finding in the report was that premature death is rising across all ethnic groups and community types, particularly when it comes to drug overdoses.

Drug overdose was the leading cause of premature death in all age brackets and community types, but motor vehicle crashes and firearms fatalities contributed heavily to premature death among 15 to 44 year olds. The study included both intentional injury deaths; such as homicide and suicides, and unintentional injury deaths, such as accidental drug overdoses, motor vehicle crashes, falls, and suffocation.

Residents in rural areas had the highest death rate due to suicide and unintentional injuries, while residents in urban areas had the highest death rate due to homicide, but lower rates of death due to unintentional injuries.

As the report points out, each county and community is unique, but this annual statistical study helps community leaders evaluate their situations, think about available resources, and develop plans for better outcomes.