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L.A. County ranks 26th of 56 in new health study; Orange County in top 10

February 17, 2010 |  7:43 am

New county health rankings for every state in the country were released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute.

Los Angeles County ranked 26th for health outcomes and 44th for health factors of the 56 California counties surveyed (Alpine and Sierra counties were not surveyed). By contrast, Orange County ranked seventh for health outcomes and ninth for health factors. Health outcomes measure how healthy a county is based on mortality and morbidity, and health factors measure influences on the health of the county such as residents’ education, smoking and the environment.

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

“This report shows us that there are big differences in overall health across California’s counties, due to many factors, ranging from individual behavior to quality of healthcare, to education and jobs, to access to healthy foods, and to quality of the air,” said Dr. Patrick Remington, associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“For the first time, every person can compare the overall health of their county to the health of other counties in California, and also see where the state needs to improve,” Remington added.

Each county was ranked based on residents’ health, longevity and factors such as smoking, obesity, binge drinking, access to primary care providers, rates of high school graduation, rates of violent crime, air pollution levels, liquor store density, unemployment rates and number of children living in poverty.

Researchers used five measures to assess the level of overall health: the rate of people dying before age 75; the percentage of people who reported being in fair or poor health; number of days people reported being in poor physical health; 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, social and economic factors, and physical environment. Nationwide, the study showed poorly ranked counties often had multiple health problems, including higher rates of premature death, often from preventable conditions; and high smoking rates that lead to cancer, heart disease, bronchitis and emphysema.

“These rankings demonstrate that health happens where we live, learn, work and play," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "And much of what influences how healthy we are and how long we live happens outside the doctor’s office.”

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: L.A. Times file