Where we live matters to our health.
A recent study shows the healthiest and least healthy counties across the nation, and the study did not just look at medical care.
“The opportunity to be healthy looks different in Houston County and in Bibb County,” said Aliana Havrilla, community coach with County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The eighth annual County Health Rankings was released late Tuesday. It can be found at www.countyhealthrankings.org.
“The rankings help us to understand that good health is about … access to education, employment, income, our health behaviors, smoking and physical activity,” Havrilla said.
The rankings in some categories — even for adjacent counties adjacent — vary widely.
Bibb County ranked 142 out of all 159 counties in Georgia for health outcomes, while Houston County ranked 27; Jones County, 28; Monroe County, 51 and Peach County, 101, according to the rankings.
“Health outcomes … are a snapshot,” Havrilla said. “At a point in time, it tells us the length of life in a community and can be used as a measure of premature death … and the quality of life.”
More people are dying young in Bibb County, she said.
Bibb County is ranked 147 out of 159 counties for length of life. Other midstate counties and their length of life rankings are: Peach, 111, Monroe, 48, Jones, 19 and Houston, 14.
“It means that the rate of premature death (years of potential life lost before age 75) is higher in Bibb County than in a county with a better rank,” Havrilla said.
The study also includes things such as adult smoking, adult obesity and physical inactivity, which varied little among midstate counties. For example, 20 percent of adults in Bibb County smoke, versus 16 percent in Jones and Monroe counties. The statewide rate is 18 percent.
Adult obesity was 31 percent in Bibb and Houston and 34 percent in Jones and Peach counties. It was 32 percent in Monroe County. However, interestingly, the access to exercise opportunities was lowest in Jones County (60 percent) compared to 86 percent in Houston and 77 percent in Bibb and 74 percent in Peach.
“The health factors are the places where there are opportunities for communities to come together and strengthen and leverage their partnerships to start improving health within the community,” Havrilla said.
The study this year took a closer look at premature death trends from 1997 to 2014.
“(Statewide) we find 110 counties have seen improvements in premature death rates, while seven have seen worsening rates and the rest saw no change,” according to a news release.
“Drug overdose deaths are fueling a dramatic increase in premature deaths nationally because of an increase in deaths among 15 to 44 year olds,” the release stated.
According to the 2017 rankings, the five healthiest counties in Georgia, starting with most healthy, are Forsyth, Oconee, Fayette, Gwinnett and Cherokee counties.
The five counties in the poorest health, starting with least healthy, are Quitman, Randolph, Clay, Jefferson and Early counties.
Study also looks at social, economic factors
“The rankings also indicate that Bibb County is at-risk for poor health when it comes to social and economic factors that affect poor health, such as poverty rates and unemployment, where it ranked 121 out of 159,” she said.
Education is one of the categories in this ranking.
High school education was at 71 percent in Bibb County, followed by Jones, 78 percent; Peach, 83 percent; Houston, 85 percent; and Monroe at 88 percent. Statewide, people with a high school education are at 80 percent.
While Bibb County, at 55 percent, ranked higher than the state, at 37 percent, for children in single-parent households, Bibb was the lowest in Middle Georgia, at 21 percent, for long commute driving alone. The statewide ranking was at 39 percent, and in Middle Georgia, Jones County was the highest in this category with 43 percent.
“The rankings allow local leaders to clearly see and prioritize the challenges they face – whether it’s rising premature death rates or the growing drug overdose epidemic – so they can bring community leaders and residents together to find solutions,” Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president/CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in the release.