Unhealthy county trends show up in UGA report

Published 12:13 am Wednesday, April 2, 2014

While Georgia’s healthier counties continue to grow and lessen their potential health risk factors, rural counties like Decatur County are showing trends of becoming less healthy with higher obesity rates, more children living in poverty and higher rates of unemployment according to the University of Georgia.
In the fifth annual County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report, which was released last week, Decatur County was ranked 132 of 159 counties in the state for overall health.
The study, conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Institute, considered factors such as access to healthcare, the condition of the physical environment and length of life to determine an overall ranking.
“This is really a compilation of existing data sources that they pull for various indicators,” Dr. Marsha Davis, Associate Dean of Outreach and Engagement at UGA said. “This is the good thing about the rankings — they take into account things like the length of life and quality of life, but also health behaviors and risk factors like chronic diseases, tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol and sexual activity and access to clinical care. So all of these things — from policies to health factors to health outcomes — are used to rank a county’s health.”
Decatur County ranked, of 159 counties, 101 for quality of life, 143 for health behaviors, 124 for clinical care, 149 for social and economic factors and 37 for the health of the physical environment.
Within each of those categories, there were specific statistics that contributed to the ranking. For example, the ranking in health behaviors of 143 was made up of poor statistics on the amount of adults in Decatur County that smoke (24 percent — which is more than the state average of 18 percent,) sexually transmitted infections and teen births.
There were 84 reported teen births in Decatur County compared to an average of 48 teen births each year in the state of Georgia — an average of 20 teen births each year in the top performing counties in the U.S.
Decatur County did well in the health behavior category for access to exercise and the number of adults that reported to be physically active. Thirty percent of Decatur County residents say they are physically active, while the state average is 25 percent.
In the clinical care category where Decatur County ranked 124, the study found there was a vast lack of mental health providers. There is a 1:9,514 ratio for mental health professionals to Decatur County residents. That is nine times the amount of the state average ratio of 1:1,478. There is a ratio of dentists to Decatur County residents of 1:3,171.
The study also revealed sexually transmitted diseases in Decatur County have increased at a high rate. There were 971 cases in 2011 — twice the number for the state average.
“I know the rankings can sometimes be hard to take,” Davis said. “But this ranking also gives you some benchmarks to look to change, and that is the important thing to look at is, what in our community do we want to work on to improve our health.”
Davis said community leaders can pinpoint the most alarming aspects where community health is failing and target those areas. In areas of high performance, the community could just keep those existing programs going while pushing to improve in other areas.
Decatur County had good rankings for high school graduation with 71 percent of students graduating. That is higher than the state average of 68 percent. But the study also found the number of children in Decatur County living in poverty is more than 50 percent — twice that of the state average.
To view the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report, go to countyhealthrankings.org.

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