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Study tracks down clues to health

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New county rankings revealed

ROBERT ALLEN

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Times Reporter 

The fourth annual County Health Rankings and Roadmaps study is now available. According to a press release from the Florida Department of Health, the study, produced by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “uses traditional, established data, much of which was obtained from the Department and is available to the people of Florida at www.floridacharts.com.”

Out of the 67 counties in Florida, Gadsden County ranked 61 in health outcomes. Gadsden’s three most immediate neighbors — Leon, Liberty, and Jackson counties — all earned better rankings. 

According to the study, “The overall rankings in health outcomes represent how healthy counties are within the state. The healthiest county in the state is ranked #1. The ranks are based on two types of measures: how long people live and how healthy people feel while alive.”

Among other data, this rank is influenced by a premature-death statistic, measured in collective years deceased before age 75. Accordingly, a death at 15 will add 60 years to this statistic. In Gadsden County, a homicide rate, per-capita, equal to Miami-Dade County adversely impacts this premature-death measurement. Similarly, Gadsden stands in a three-way tie for third-worst county when considering the percentage of traffic fatalities the study labels as “alcohol-impaired driving deaths.” All three tied counties — Gadsden, Calhoun and Franklin — show 50 percent of driving deaths are alcohol-related. 

Separately, Gadsden County also ranked 63 in health factors. Again, Gadsden’s neighbors performed better. 

The study explains, “The overall rankings in health factors represent what influences the health of a county. They are an estimate of the future health of counties as compared to other counties within a state. The ranks are based on four types of measures: health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic, and physical environment factors.”

Among a variety of other data, two distinct measures of the population’s personal fitness are considered when calculating a county’s health factors. The study shows 33 percent of Gadsden County in a condition of “physical inactivity” and 22 percent with “access to exercise opportunities.” Florida, as a state, performs much better in both categories: 24 percent of Floridians report “physical inactivity” and 78 percent report “access to exercise opportunities.”

According to the same press release from the Florida Department of Health, Howard McKinnon, chairman of the Gadsden Community Health Council said, “The recent County Health Rankings will make us more determined to continue to see more improvements in Gadsden County.”

In 2010, when this study was conducted for the first time, Gadsden County ranked 62 in health outcomes and 64 in health factors — indicating a one-place improvement over four years in both rankings. 

At least three possible relationships between each county’s outcome ranking and factor ranking emerge when considering the data: counties with outcome ranks that defy the implications of their notably worse factor ranks, counties with factor ranks that fail to account for notably worse outcome ranks and counties with similar factor and outcome ranks.  

One of Gadsden’s neighbors falls into each of these three general categories. Liberty County ranked 32 in outcomes but 48 in factors while Jefferson County ranked 31 in factors but 47 in outcomes — making the two as close to a perfect inverse as a relative ranking system can allow. Leon County ranked 9 in both lists. 

Aaron Kissler, Gadsden County’s health department administrator, said in the press release, “In Gadsden County there are areas of progress and continuing opportunity. In the past several years there has been a successful effort to improve access to health services. This has included the reopening of the local hospital, working with new health providers to increase services, our new Community Health Nursing program, Department of Health-Gadsden dental program and our limited comprehensive healthcare program funded by the Gadsden County Board of County Commissioners.” 

The study will be conducted again next year.