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Wyandotte County

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The health disparities between Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas are real. Reporter Alex Smith explains how he "sought to depict not just the struggles these people faced, but also their humor, their hope, their wisdom."

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Take a Saturday morning bike ride along the Kansas side of the state line and you’ll see plenty of people playing tennis, soccer and jogging in Johnson County. Ride a bit farther north to Wyandotte County, though, and it’s clear that outdoor recreation is a much rarer phenomenon.

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Johnson County’s high income and education levels are typically associated with health-promoting activities like exercise, preventive care and nutritious diets. But alcohol abuse is another aspect of life in the county, often tucked away from view.

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One neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas, is trying to get its citizens to become more physically active. Zumba, anyone?

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In Johnson County, for every 1,000 infants born in recent years, fewer than five don’t make it to their first birthday. In Wyandotte County, the number is closer to eight.

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In the past couple of years, the Affordable Care Act has provided thousands of residents at Wyandotte County with health insurance, creating a surge in demand for health care in a county that had already been designated a Health Professional Shortage Area by the federal government.

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At her home studio in Westwood, Kansas, instructor Marilyn Pace leads a class of 5-to-8-year olds through yoga positions. But just six blocks from the yoga studio — where Wyandotte County begins — the picture of health is quite different.

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Walk into the courtroom of Wyandotte County District Judge Kathleen M. Lynch and you may be surprised to find lawyers who aren’t asked to stand up and a judge who prefers street dress to a judge’s robes.

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Health rankings published in recent years have made it clear that there’s a lot of work to do in Wyandotte County, Kansas, which has some of the worst health outcomes in the state, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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