The second annual County Health Rankings by the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation assesses wellness in nearly all of the nation’s 3,000-plus counties. It found for 2011 that Fayette County, just south of Atlanta, was the healthiest county in Georgia for the second year in a row.
The least healthy county was Calhoun County in southwest Georgia, which fell down one spot from second-to-last in 2010.
Logan Boss, a spokesman for the Northwest Georgia Public Health District, said the rankings should be considered "a snapshot in time" and suggested that they are useful when compared over a multi-year period.
From the public health standpoint, the results could be useful in helping form a public-private partnership to address certain issues.
Rounding out the healthiest five counties in Georgia were: Oconee in second place, followed by Forsyth, Gwinnett and Cobb. Talbot County was the second unhealthiest, followed by Quitman, Stewart and Randolph.
The healthiest county in Northwest Georgia was Catoosa at 34, followed by Bartow County at 50, Gordon County at 57, Floyd County at 72, Walker County at 106, Chattooga County at 110 and Polk County at 124.
Georgia is very similar to other states in that there are big differences in a number of factors between the healthiest and least healthy counties, with the healthiest places having fewer smokers, less obesity, higher high school graduation rates, more adults who’ve attended college, fewer children in poverty, and more social support, the researchers said.
Dr. Jacqueline Grant, director of the Southwest Georgia Public Health District, which includes Calhoun County, said she wasn’t particularly surprised by the results.
"When people are poor and struggling, they’re not thinking about trying to get out and walk. They’re not thinking about trying to get five or more servings of fruits and vegetables when they’re just trying to put food on the table," Grant said. "It’s these kinds of things that make it very difficult but we do our best to try to educate as much as we can."
Her region has taken steps in recent years to educate the population and to provide additional resources, including securing funding a few years ago to start a prenatal program to address the area’s high teen pregnancy rate and pre-term delivery rate, Grant said.
In Calhoun County, 38 percent of children live in poverty, 33 percent of adults are obese and the high school graduation rate is 65 percent, according to data in the report. In Fayette County, 7 percent of children live in poverty, 25 percent of adults are obese and the high school graduation rate is 85 percent. In Georgia as a whole, 20 percent of children live in poverty, 28 percent of adults are obese and the high school graduation rate is 64 percent. Nationwide, 11 percent of children live in poverty, 25 percent of adults are obese and the high school graduation rate is 92 percent.
In addition to having a wealthier and more educated population, Fayette County also provides a lot of services and makes an effort to educate people about what’s available, said Hayla Hall, risk communicator for the public health district that includes Fayette County.
"I think it says a lot about the businesses and health care in Fayette County because they’re working together to pro-vide quality health care and a good lifestyle for people in Fayette County," she said.
The rankings compare counties within each state. They’re based on data from vital statistics and government health surveys. Premature deaths — people dying before age 75 of preventable diseases; self-reported health status; and the percent of low birth-weight babies contribute to the rankings. Other measures include obesity rates, unemployment, high school graduation rates and pollution.
The report provided rankings for 156 of Georgia’s 159 counties. Not ranked were Echols, Taliaferro and Webster counties. The researchers have a policy of not ranking a county if they are unable to secure reliable data for at least 50 percent of the measures within a category.