Much of Middle Georgia is fat, dumb and unhappy, a report released Wednesday suggests.
An array of problems — including poor education, plenty of fat and unusual amounts of stress or other challenges — makes much of the region unhealthy, the report from County Health Rankings shows.
Despite the problems, Bibb County is ranked best in the state for its clinical care, with a large number of doctors and relatively few uninsured adults.
There were other bright spots. Houston County ranked 18th out of 159 counties in the state due its relatively low rates of poverty, premature deaths and low birth-weight babies, while providing good education.
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Melinda Hartley, vice president for patient care services/chief nursing officer for Houston Healthcare, said a coalition that works with young women, especially teenagers, may have contributed to the paucity of low birth-weight babies.
Spearheaded by Houston Healthcare, the Perinatal Coalition includes a broad range of groups from the Rainbow House to the Children’s Resource Center to educate women on prenatal care, said Priscilla Kennedy, communications and marketing manger for Houston Healthcare
“Teenage births are the ones who are very high risk,” Hartley said.
So the coalition developed an educational program that targets young women and teenagers with the importance of eating properly, including getting enough protein, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and taking vitamins daily, Hartley said.
Also, physicians are collaborating with Houston Healthcare to encourage enrollment in prenatal education classes offered at Houston Medical Center, Kennedy said.
Houston County didn’t fare as well on health behaviors such as adult smoking or adult obesity.
“Being in the South, we lag behind as a state,” Hartley said. “We really need to work toward improving in these particular areas.”
Adult smoking is an example of one of the areas Houston Healthcare has made steps to address, having become a nonsmoking facility, Hartley said.
“We are working hard on our efforts to send a message that it’s important not to smoke,” she said. Smoking contributes to chronic health conditions, she said.
The study also found that Crawford County fared well in general health measures, but it suffered from poor marks for the number of doctors and education levels.
Monroe County (57th overall) was ranked better than average in Georgia across the board, with a moderate teen birth rate and number of doctors, but poor access to healthy foods.
Bibb ranks badly in the rates of premature death, low birth-weight babies and the venereal disease chlamydia. It also ranked almost dead last — 155th of 157th ranked counties — for its physical environment, partially because just 27 percent had access to healthy foods.
Bibb County (123rd overall) was the 141st in the state for social and economic factors because its high school graduation rate is much worse than the state average, and its children are nearly twice as likely to live in poverty.
In a December interview, district Health Director David Harvey, a pediatrician who oversees public health for much of Middle Georgia, said many of the area’s health problems are closely linked. Better diet and more exercise, for example, would help mothers carry their babies to term, cutting down on the rates of low birth-weight babies.
While the causes are complicated, some solutions are as simple as building playgrounds or playing a Saturday pickup game of baseball instead of a video game. Harvey said in December he wants to bring together hospitals, doctors and other interested people or groups to see how they can “incentivize” healthy lifestyles.
“Sure, we can take care of a sick baby, but why have a sick baby? Why not have a healthy baby to begin with?” Harvey said, then paused. “I will tell you, there is no quick and easy fix for this.”
Middle Georgia’s counties were all at least marginally worse than even the state average on obesity, which is one of the worst in the nation. At least 30 percent of adults in nearby counties are considered obese.
Twiggs County (145th overall) also ranked badly in premature death, low birth-weight babies, children in poverty and education.
Baldwin County (71st overall) ranked among the worst — 151st of 157 — for morbidity outcomes, with its residents suffering nearly twice as many poor mental health days as the state average. But Baldwin also fared well in scores on clinical care, ranking 17th in the state because of a high adult health insurance rate.
Peach County (68th overall) ranked near the middle in the state, except for being seventh-best in the state on physical environment because of clean air and healthy food.
Chance McGough, nurse manager for the Medical Surgical Unit at Peach Regional Medical Center, was not surprised about the county’s middle ranking in most areas.
McGough said he expects that’s probably because of the county’s young population, which experiences less health care issues than older adults, is juxtaposed with the county’s low-income population, which may not have access to health insurance.
Peach County is home to Fort Valley State University, which provides an influx of young people, McGough said. Also, Byron’s population is marked by young, middle-class families that experience less sickness than the county’s aging population and have access to health insurance and preventative care.
In contrast, the county’s low-income population is less likely to have access to health insurance and preventative care and also may be a little more reluctant to come to the hospital, he said.
In addition, like most counties, Peach has its share of health problems related to obesity, diabetes and congestive heart failure, McGough said.
Two of Georgia’s 159 counties — Echols and Taliaferro — were not ranked. The information was generated by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Data is drawn from other sources, such as U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The report is online at CountyHealthRankings.org.