County health rankings provide glimpse in changes from last year
by Mark Andrews
Apr 10, 2011 | 2470 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released county health rankings that rank Bartow County as the 50th healthiest county out of the state's 156 counties.

In northwest Georgia, Bartow was ranked the second healthiest county compared to Catoosa, which ranked 34.

Logan Boss, spokesperson for Northwest Georgia Public Health, said it was important for people to keep the rankings in perspective as a "health snapshot" of a community since this is only the second year for the rankings.

"As [the rankings] begin to come out year after year, I think [the rankings] can become more useful tools than they already are," Boss said.

He added, although the statistics show a short time frame for comparison, the rankings as a whole were an important step in improving the health of an area.

"Your individual counties can see how they compare to other counties in their state," Boss said, "and this is really the first time we've had this standard yardstick that we can use to improve the overall health in Georgia as well as the whole country."

There are over two dozen rankings ranging from social and economic factors like unemployment and high school graduation, to health factors like obesity rate and smoking.

One of the biggest rate increases came from the high school graduation rate, which rose 9 percent from 56 percent to 65 percent. Other notable spikes include the number of single parent households increasing from 9 percent to 30 percent.

However, Boss explained the ranking system used has a myriad of determining factors to decide what gives positive or negative "points" to the ranks.

For example, in 2010 the measurement for adult obesity was based on the percent of ZIP codes in a county with a healthy food outlet, defined as grocery stores with more than four employees or produce stands/markets. In 2011, the measurement criteria was changed and based on the percent of residential ZIP codes in a county with a healthy food outlet, defined as grocery stores or produce stands/farmers' markets, eliminating the four employee minimum.

Bartow county saw a three percent increase to 25 percent access to healthy food outlets in 2011, but also saw a two percent increase in adult obesity to 29 percent. The state average for adult obesity is 28 percent and the national benchmark is 25 percent.

Neighboring Floyd County had 100 percent access to healthy foods but had a marginally higher obesity rate than Bartow at 31 percent.

There were also rankings for access to recreational facilities and air pollution days.

"The Rankings really show us with solid data that there is a lot more to health than health care," said Patrick Remington, director of the County Health Rankings project and Associate Dean for Public Health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. "Where we live, learn, work and play affect our health, and we need to use the information from the Rankings to shine a spotlight on where we need to improve so we can take action to address our problems."

Boss echoed his statements.

"One of the key things that comes from this type of ranking is that health is everyone's business," Boss said, " ... everyone needs to understand what factors beyond medical care influence the health of their community so we can all work together to develop and create programs that will allow and help people to lead healthier lives."

To view all rankings, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.