'Healthiest' Counties Ranked in Florida

By: Nicole Morten,
By: Nicole Morten,

Where we live plays a critical role in our health and a new report released Wednesday, examines all 3,000 counties in the U.S. and ranked each county within each state by their quality of health.

If we step back and look at the big picture, what really influences our health is dependent on a plethora of factors. As stated earlier, where we live, our environment, what we eat and how much we eat, the economic climate, and even jobs and education all play a critical role.

The County Health Rankings, conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is the first to rank the overall health of the counties in all 50 states. Out of the 67 counties in Florida, the panhandle faired well. Okaloosa County came in at #9 and Santa Rosa at #10. Bay County, however, came in at #36.

Florida County Rankings :

1. Collier
9. Okaloosa
10. Santa Rosa
28. Gulf
31. Franklin
36. Bay
42. Liberty
43. Walton
46. Jackson
50. Calhoun
61. Holmes
62. Gadsden
64. Washington
67. Union

According to the report, several programs and changes in the county were attributed for Bay County's success:

Health Behaviors
•Gulf Coast Medical Center, Bay Medical Center and Health South Rehabilitation Hospital adopting tobacco free campus policy
•Increased provision of tobacco cessation classes and services.
•Bay Medical Center received a 3-year grant in 2009 for community tobacco cessation education and in-patient cessation support.
•Artful Truth program by the Tobacco Free Partnership and Students Working against Tobacco in partnership with Girls Inc. and Bay District Schools. Showcases youth art projects with anti-tobacco message.
•Smoking rates among adults decreased from 29% in 2002 to 22% in 2007.
•Increased education and self-management services for diabetics through a community partnership between Bay Medical Center, Community Health Center, St. Andrew Medical Clinic, and the Bay County Health Department.
•Creation of work site wellness programs to address health risk factors and healthy lifestyle behaviors.
•Gulf Coast Medical Center worked with area physicians to develop in-patient smoking cessation protocols.
•Creation of the Bay Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition to address underage drinking and prescription drug abuse.

Clinical Care
•Creation of the St. Andrew Community Medical Clinic and the Community Health Center to address health care access. Includes assistance with prescription medication and dental services.
•Annual free school sports physicals provided through a partnership between the Bays Medical Society, Medical Reserve Corps, Bay District Schools, and the Bay County Health Department.
•Bay Medical Center offers free monthly glucose screenings and annual pediatric asthma screenings. They also provide asthma education in local schools.
•Gulf Coast Medical Center’s Commit to Fit program provides employers and community groups more than 20 free screenings.

Social and Economic
•Targeted reduction of “meth labs” by local law enforcement.

Physical Environment
•Healthy Beaches monitoring program conducted by the Bay County Health Department.
•Creation and improvement of walking parks throughout the county.

“Expanding access to care is a goal of all health care providers in our community,” stated Gulf Coast Medical Center CEO Brian Baumgardner. Through our hospital’s Commit to Fit program, we have provided free health screenings and other resources to more than 10,000 Bay County residents in the last two years. Through our community and employer relationships we are helping detect emerging health issues before they become medical emergencies.”

“Bay County has a history of working together to address community issues. The impressive cooperative efforts in public health should be recognized and built upon to further address public health issues and improve health outcomes,” said Dennis Cookro, Acting Director, Bay County Health Department.

“I think it is important to remember that this is not a ranking of county health departments but rather the health of the community. Much of what influences how healthy we are and how long we live happens outside the doctor’s office, clinic or hospital. As a community, we should use the results of the County Health Rankings to spur all sectors – government, business, community and faith-based groups, education and public health – to work together on solutions that address barriers to good health. We should celebrate our successes and mobilize community leaders to invest in programs and policy changes that will improve health in Bay County.” said Dennis Cookro, M.D., M.P.H., Acting Director of the Bay County Health Department.

For information on how surrounding counties ranked, go to the online report, available at www.countyhealthrankings.org. The report includes a snapshot of each county in Florida with a color-coded map comparing each county’s overall health ranking. Researchers used five measures to assess the level of overall health or “health outcomes” for Florida by county: the rate of people dying before age 75, the percent of people who report being in fair or poor health, the numbers of days people report being in poor physical and poor mental health, and the rate of low-birthweight infants.

The report then looks at factors that affect people’s health within four categories: health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment. Specific health factors looked at included rates of adult smoking, adult obesity, binge drinking, and teenage pregnancy; the number of uninsured adults, availability of primary care providers, and preventable hospital stays; rates of high school graduation, number of children in poverty, rates of violent crime, access to healthy foods, air pollution levels, and liquor store density.


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