How Healthy Is Your County? County health rankings highlight successes, challenges in Georgia

September 5, 2013

Originally published on March 25, 2013

The 2013 County Health Rankings were released on March 20, showing counties across the U.S. how they stack up against other counties in their states.

The rankings, compiled annually by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, are based on 30 measures of health and well-being. Some of the data are measures directly related to health, including premature death, tobacco use, obesity and sexually transmitted infections. Other factors, such as education, jobs and crime, may not seem like health matters, but numerous studies have shown that these factors often impact the health of a county's residents.

In Georgia, the top 10 counties in the 2013 rankings are Forsyth, Fayette, Oconee, Gwinnett, Cherokee, Cobb, Columbia, Morgan, Coweta and Rockdale.

Coweta and Rockdale counties entered the top 10 for the first time, moving up from the 14th and 16th spots, respectively, in the 2012 rankings. Data show that both counties lowered their premature death rates and unemployment rates; Rockdale County's rates of smoking and preventable hospital stays went down, as did Coweta County's rates of sexually transmitted infections and motor vehicle crash deaths.

Heard County jumped from a ranking of 105 in 2012 to the 87th spot in the 2013 rankings. The county showed improvements in its rates of premature deaths, babies with low birthweight, sexually transmitted infections, unemployment, violent crime and the percent of its restaurants that are fast-food establishments.

The rankings also illustrate the challenges facing residents and members of the public health workforce in counties throughout Georgia. Obesity is still a major health concern for all 159 counties; Forsyth County, the county that performed the best in the category, still has an adult obesity rate of 23 percent. In the 98 counties that reported adult smoking rates, 90 were above the national benchmark of 13 percent.  

The 2013 rankings were the first to include infant mortality rates, but they reinforce the Georgia Department of Public Health's own previous investigation of infant mortality rates in Georgia, which identified six clusters around the state where the problem was most significant. These numbers spurred public health to action.

In 2008, the infant mortality rate in Lowndes County was 16.7 percent, nearly twice as high as the entire state of Georgia. The county introduced its Baby Luv program, designed to get more pregnant women the prenatal care they need. In 2012, the infant mortality rate in Lowndes County had dropped to 6.9 percent.

In 2009, Dougherty County launched the Centering Pregnancy model, a program that offers earlier and longer prenatal care through the health department. The rate of preterm birth -- the leading cause of infant mortality in Georgia -- for women in the program dropped to 5.9 percent, less than half of the baseline rates for other women in Dougherty County.

By deploying programs like these, Georgia SHAPE and tobacco cessation programs to address the problems of infant mortality, childhood obesity and smoking, DPH hopes to continue to make progress in these areas to help Georgians in all counties live healthier.

To see where your county stands in the rankings, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.

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