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Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Health study ranks Tampa area counties in middle

The stress of a long job commute can affect your health. So can living in a home with poor plumbing, too many people or an insufficient kitchen.

Those and other environmental factors are now included in an annual survey of the nation’s health. Even with the new data, though, county-by-county results released Wednesday show the Tampa Bay area’s standing remains about the same as in prior years.

The report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute places Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk and Manatee near the middle of its list of Florida’s 67 counties. This is the fifth year the County Health Rankings report has been published.

This year, Hillsborough ranked 31st, Pinellas 35th, Pasco 42nd, Polk 28th, Hernando 50th and Manatee 22nd in the state. The report provides county-to-county comparisons within a state; it does not compare counties nationwide.

Sarasota County, which came in at No. 8, was the area’s healthiest county. It reported lower adult obesity, fewer sexually transmitted infections, fewer children living in poverty, fewer incidents of violent crime and fewer teen births than the state average.

The rankings included 29 factors that affect health, including smoking, high school graduation rates, employment, physical activity and access to healthy foods. Health behaviors and economic factors add up to 70 percent of the health factors score.

Roderick King, Florida Public Health Institute’s executive director, said consideration of new environmental data, despite some housing information that is almost four years old, is valuable in giving a more complete picture of how people live.

“Where we live, work, learn and play matters to our health,” King said. “Much of what happens to our life happens outside of the doctor’s office.”

King said his department was surprised at how little the numbers changed compared to last year. Some of that was because several indicators do not update annually. The U.S. government shutdown and sequestration also had an effect.

Still, some of Florida’s health challenges showed little or no change. The rate of adult obesity stayed about the same for the past three years, hovering at about 26 percent.

“We’re not getting worse, but where we are isn’t getting better,” King said.

The report ranked St. Johns, home to St. Augustine in northeast Florida, as the state’s healthiest county. Others in the top five are Collier, Seminole, Martin and Miami-Dade.

Union County, in which 15,000 residents live north of Gainesville, was Florida’s least healthy, behind Washington, Putnam, Baker and Hamilton.

“If you live in a rural place, you have fewer resources to be healthy,” King said. “And if you live in an unhealthy place, it’s hard to live a healthy lifestyle.”

Hillsborough County placed at or near state averages for air pollution, drinking water violations, housing problems and commuting. Pinellas had below-average rates among Florida counties for children living in poverty but higher percentages of violent crime and injury deaths. Pasco County showed a slight uptick in physical inactivity and a downturn in mammography screening.

“There are a lot of things that influence health, not just clinical factors and access to care,” said Steve Huard, Hillsborough County Health Department spokesman.

“This kind of report helps us talk to the community at large and to our political leaders,” Huard said. “It gives us a good starting point to develop a conversation.”

Survey results for every county in all 50 states can be viewed at countyhealthrankings.org

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