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National health survey ranks L.A. County 28th in state

Los Angeles County ranked 28th in the state in a new national survey of county health rankings

Here, 22% of adults are obese, 19% are inactive and 16% drink excessively. In addition, 22% report being in poor or fair health.

“We want to do better,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for the county. “There is no question about that. But we are a very large, diverse county, and we have the diversity of problems along with that.”

When one in five residents says they are in poor or fair health, Fielding said, "we have a lot of work to do."

Marin County ranked No. 1 for the third year in a row and Trinity County ranked last.

The rankings, produced by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, compare counties throughout the state — and nation — based on both physical and socioeconomic factors.

Researchers determined the health of a county using five main factors: premature deaths, low-birth-weight infants, the percent of people who say they are in poor or fair health and the number of days people reporting being in poor physical or said they were in poor mental health.

They also considered other measures such as smoking and obesity rates, teen births, preventable hospital stays, childhood poverty rates, education and air pollution levels.

The report also has some new measures this year, including the number of fast-food restaurants and the level of physical inactivity.

The rankings are designed to show county leaders and residents that health depends on more than just doctors’ visits. Poverty, education and crime rates can also have significant impacts.

“Where we live matters greatly to our health,” said Dr. James S. Marks, senior vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “These rankings, we hope, will open that discussion up for these counties so that their leaders will begin to say, “What can we do to improve our county and begin to work on it?’”

The top five healthiest counties in California are Marin, Santa Clara, San Benito, Placer and San Mateo. The bottom five counties are Trinity, Del Norte, Siskiyou, Tehama and Lake.

The rankings can motivate leaders to improve the health of their counties, said Dr. Patrick Remington, associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“It serves as a call to action for people to think about how their community compares to others,” he said.

San Bernardino County, for example, is working to move up from its ranking at 41st. The county is pushing every city to launch a “healthy-communities” initiative to improve residents’ health, according to a video produced in connection to the release of the report. Some cities have changed zoning policies to allow community gardens or started cooking classes or walking clubs.

But the county is spread over 20,000 square miles and has consistently high air-pollution levels and widespread unemployment.

“Every year we take the rankings very seriously,” said the county’s health officer, Dr. Maxwell Ohikhuare. “We have made some incremental improvements, but we still feel that there are a lot of challenges ahead of us.”

Generally, he said, there is more awareness among residents about what improves health, including eating better and getting more exercise. “Those things are starting to resonate,” he said.

Los Angeles County, too, has taken steps to change the physical environment to promote exercise and reduce obesity. Earlier this year, the county supervisors approved an ordinance requiring new developments to have wider sidewalks and bicycle parking and making it easier for communities to start gardens and hold farmers markets.

The county is focusing on several issues, including crime rates, air pollution and smoking cessation, Fielding said. “What we have to understand is that it takes a number of years to make a dent in all of these,” he said.

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— Anna Gorman

 
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