published Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Health rankings criteria widened in Tennessee, Georgia

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ON THE WEB

For more information, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.

FROM THE RANKINGS

  • Hamilton County has more than twice as many primary care physicians based on population compared to Bradley County.

  • In Grundy County, 43 percent of children live in poverty.

  • In Sequatchie County, 30 percent of residents are in poor or fair health.

  • Hamilton County ranked fourth in the state for health behaviors, including below-state averages for smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.

  • In Georgia, Catoosa County ranked ninth in the state for social and economic factors, with an 80 percent high school graduation rate and a low violent crime rate.

  • Walker County in Georgia ranked 133rd in the state for health behaviors, with higher-than-state averages for physical inactivity and teen birth rates.

Source: County Health Rankings

Fast-food outlets make up about half the restaurants in Tennessee and Georgia -- and local counties such as Bradley, Catoosa, Murray and Whitfield have even higher percentages, according to a health ranking released today.

Coupled with the fact that 30 percent of Tennesseans and 24 percent of Georgians 20 and older report they have no leisure time physical activity, the latest health reports don't look good for the two states. According to the rankings, about one-third of the adults in the Chattanooga area are obese.

This was the first year the county health rankings, compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, added physical inactivity, access to health foods and the percentage of fast-food restaurants.

This is the third year the rankings have been released.

"The big message is: Where we live matters," said Karen Odegaard, a researcher with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. "We look at the rankings as a call to action, to be a starting point for communities to look at what they can do to make their communities a healthier place to live."

The healthiest county in Tennessee this year was Williamson County near Nashville. The least healthy was Grundy County, which had climbed out of the bottom spot last year, only to flop back this year.

In Georgia, Fayette County has the healthiest residents and Talbot County is the least healthy, even though both counties are in west-central Georgia and separated by only two counties.

The County Health Rankings rank the overall health of nearly every county in all 50 states, using a standard way to measure how healthy people are and how long they live.

The results are divided into health outcomes -- based on mortality and morbidity -- and health factors that include tobacco use, obesity levels, access to health care and healthy food, education, employment, safety and air quality, according to the foundation.

In Southeast Tennessee, Bradley County ranked highest for overall health, coming in 18th out of 95 counties in the state, while Hamilton County fell to 29th, down four slots from last year.

In Georgia, Catoosa and Whitfield counties were in the top 25 percent in overall health, while Walker and Murray were in the bottom third.

Odegaard said the additional data this year is an effort to provide a broader look at all the health factors contributing to a community's health.

Access to fast-food outlets in a community has been linked to an increase in obesity and diabetes, the rankings note. The level of physical activity and access to healthy foods also contribute to overall health, Odegaard said.

The county health rankings are useful because they look at such a wide range of factors that are not always directly linked to health outcomes but still play a huge role, said Logan Boss, the spokesman for the 10-county Northwest Georgia Health District.

"It gives good information, but it is only a snapshot in time and not a useful tool to measure progress. It is one tool we use," Boss said.

Contact staff writer Mariann Martin at mmartin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6324.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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