Collier County residents are not as healthy as they used to be, slipping from the healthiest two years in a row to fourth place among the state’s 67 counties, according to a national study
The healthiest community in Florida is St. Johns County in the northeast, where Jacksonville is located, followed by Seminole and Sarasota counties.
The analysis of health and socio-economic measurements was performed by the University of Wisconsin. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a leading healthcare philanthropic organization in New Jersey, funds the study. This is the third year of the analysis.
“We are still in the top 94 percent of all of the Florida counties and made major improvements in our rankings for health behaviors and clinical care,” Dr. Joan Colfer, executive director of the Collier County Health Department, said in a statement. “Regarding health behaviors, we improved from being sixth healthiest in the state to third. For clinical care, we now rank 19th verses 30th in 2011.
“Obviously we still have work to do and will shortly begin planning this year’s (local) Sustaining Excellence conference.”
The annual conference brings together leaders in health, business and civic affairs to network and brainstorm on improving the health and well being of residents.
Lee County dropped one place to a ranking of 24 compared to 23 last year.
The Lee Health Department said the community’s overall ranking continues to be held captive to high unemployment despite the gains in health behavior.
“A healthy community requires collaboration and hard work from all sectors to improve health outcomes,” Dr. Judith Hartner, executive director of the Lee department, said in a statement.
Overall, 16 percent of Collier residents are considered in poor or fair health. That’s slightly worse than Lee and the statewide rates of 15 percent.
When it comes to lifestyle choices, 16 percent of adults in Collier smoke, while 22 percent of Lee adults smoke, according to the analysis. The state smoking rate is 19 percent.
On obesity, 21 percent of Collier residents are obese while 26 percent of Lee residents fall into this category.
In a similar vein, 17 percent of Collier’s residents are physically inactive, while 23 percent of Lee residents are inactive. From a statewide standpoint, 24 percent of the Floridians don’t exercise.
“Health is everyone’s business,” Colfer said. “When individuals choose to eat healthy, exercise, drive responsibly, avoid tobacco and not abuse alcohol, they contribute to not only their own good health, but to the overall health of our community. I commend our citizens who are doing a great job at making these healthy choices and encourage them to continue to do so.”
Dr. Allen Weiss, president and chief executive officer of the NCH Healthcare System in Collier, said the new report means the community needs to focus on solutions that increase access to quality health care and education, and law enforcement.
“Everyone has a role in this initiative. Individual lifestyle choices which collectively make the greatest impact of all, cannot be overstated,” Weiss said.
Sally Jackson, director of community projects for the Lee Memorial Healthcare System, said Lee has made tremendous progress on health behaviors, ranking 23 this year compared to 34 in 2010.
“That is the most significant positive progress,” Jackson said, adding that the progress overlaps with the Community Health Vision 2017. “It encourages us to do more.”
The visioning committee has been working together to improve health and well-being of the community and decide where the community wants to be in 2017.
On clinical measurements, 84 percent of residents in both Lee and Collier have had a diabetes screening, according to the findings. Slightly more Collier women, 79 percent, had mammogram screenings for breast cancer, compared to Lee’s 76 percent. Statewide, 71 percent of women get screened.
When it comes to insurance, Collier’s uninsured rate is 28 percent, higher than Lee’s 26 percent.
Sioux County, N.D., was ranked the least healthy place in the United States for the second consecutive year, while Los Alamos County, N.M., is the healthiest, according to the study.
Sioux County, headquarters of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, which covers about 1 million acres in North and South Dakota, has the highest rate of premature deaths in the nation, researchers at the University of Wisconsin found. The county loses almost 24 years of potential life per 100 residents, compared to fewer than three years lost per 100 in Los Alamos, home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Eight of the 10 least-healthy counties are home to large populations of Native Americans in the Dakotas, Alaska and Montana, according to the U.S. Census. Counties with the highest rates of premature death tend to have high poverty rates, poor education systems and low levels of economic development, said Patrick Remington, a professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who compiled the data.
“We almost have a blind spot to the fact that we have counties, that represent all or part of Indian nations, that are some of the least healthy places certainly in each state and nationwide,” Remington said. “To me, that should be sort of a national disgrace.”
The Bloomberg News contributed to this report