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Marin County named healthiest in California in new study; L.A. County ranks 26th

March 30, 2011 |  9:09 am

Click to learn more (lightest colors indicate highest rank counties) Credit: University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation The title of healthiest California county goes to Marin County — for the second year in a row.

A new study released Wednesday named the Northern California county the healthiest in the state.

The Bay Area county had lower rates of smoking, adult obesity and teen birth compared with other California counties, according to an annual rankings released by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, the foundation’s president, called the rankings, “an annual check-up for communities to know how healthy they are and where they can improve.”

Along with the rankings, she announced a new program — part of an initiative called Mobilizing Action Toward Community Health — that will provide grants to up to 14 communities nationwide to improve their health.

“We hope that policymakers, businesses, educators, public health departments and community residents will use the rankings to develop solutions to help people live healthier lives,” Lavizzo-Mourey said. “It’s hard to lead a healthy life if you don’t live in a healthy community.”

Researchers used five measures to rank a county’s health: the rate of people dying before age 75, the percentage of people who reported being in fair or poor health, the number of days people reported being in poor physical health, the number of days in poor mental health, and the rate of low birth-weight infants.

Researchers then looked at factors that affect people’s health within four categories: health behaviors, clinical care, socioeconomic factors and physical environment.

The rankings did find one area where Marin County could improve: lowering the rate of binge drinking among residents.

California’s coastal counties appeared healthier than inland areas and the rural northern counties of California.

In Southern California, Los Angeles County ranked 26th, Orange County sixth, Ventura County 17th, Riverside County 29th and San Bernardino County 44th.

Among the unhealthiest counties: Del Norte, Trinity, Madera and Kern.

Last year, L.A. County also ranked 26th of the 56 California counties surveyed (Alpine and Sierra counties were not surveyed either year). Orange County moved up one slot this year from seventh last year.

According to last year's rankings, California’s 10 healthiest counties were, in order: Marin, San Benito, Colusa, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Placer, Orange, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and El Dorado. The 10 counties in the poorest health were Del Norte, Siskiyou, Lake, Trinity, Yuba, Kern, Inyo, Tulare, Madera and Modoc.

Researchers found that among the 3,000 counties they ranked nationwide and the District of Columbia, unhealthy counties tend to have significantly lower high school graduation rates, twice as many children living in poverty, higher unemployment and less access to grocery stores and farmers' markets.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Human Needs unveiled an online County Health Calculator on Wednesday that measures education and income levels relative to premature death rates in counties.

“The rankings really show us with solid data that there is a lot more to health than health care,” said Dr. Patrick Remington, director of the County Health Rankings project and associate dean for Public Health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Where we live, learn, work and play affect our health, and we need to use the information from the rankings to shine a spotlight on where we need to improve so we can take action to address our problems.”

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Map: Lighter colors indicate higher rankings. View detailed California rankings. Credit: University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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