2010 Feb. 18: CA San Diego County: County’s health above average, with sore spots (particulates)

2010 Feb. 18: CA San Diego County: County’s health above average, with sore spots (particulates)


Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 12:04 a.m.

Online: To read the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s new study, go to countyhealthrankings.org.


Compared with 55 other California counties, San Diego County was:
15th: overall health outcomes
15th: mortality
15th: social and economic factors
20th: medical care
23rd: health behaviors
26th: morbidity
40th: physical environment


Rankings for overall health outcomes:
1. Marin
2. San Benito
3. Colusa
4. Santa Clara
5. San Mateo


52. Yuba
53. Trinity
54. Lake
55. Siskiyou
56. Del Norte

People in San Diego County are healthier on average than those in other California counties, but the region falls far short of most other areas when it comes to air quality, access to nutritious food and environmental health in general, according to a new report that ranks counties within all states.
Most of California’s highest-ranking counties are in a band running from the Bay Area to the Sierra Nevada. The least healthy ones are in the Inland Empire, Central Valley and Northern California.
The top counties in terms of overall health outcomes were Marin, San Benito, Colusa, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Placer, Orange, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and El Dorado. The least healthy were Modoc, Madera, Tulare, Inyo, Kern, Yuba, Trinity, Lake, Siskiyou and Del Norte.
Two of the state’s 58 counties — Sierra and Alpine — weren’t included because statistics based on their small populations weren’t mathematically reliable for comparison purposes.
“This report shows us there are big differences in overall health across California’s counties due to many factors,” said Dr. Patrick Remington, associate dean of public health at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Researchers at the school conducted the study for the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They said the report is the first of its kind; other studies have compared entire states to one another.
Nationwide, the least healthy counties generally were rural, lacked access to healthy foods and had significantly higher-than-average rates of premature death, smoking, preventable hospital stays and poverty among children.
“Those were the indicators that really stood out as differentiating the least healthy counties from the most healthy ones,” said Bridget Booske, one of the report’s lead authors.
It’s no coincidence that higher-ranking counties are among California’s most affluent areas, said Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego County’s public-health officer. The correlation reinforces earlier studies linking health to wealth, employment, education and other socioeconomic markers.
“This speaks clearly that where you live matters,” Wooten said.
The Wisconsin scientists chose not to compare counties on a national level because such an analysis would have focused attention on a much smaller number of healthy and unhealthy communities in only a handful of states, Booske said.
“We believe health is a local issue,” she said. “We’re trying to encourage communities in all 50 states to take action.”
San Diego County ranked 15th in the category of overall health outcomes, which looks at levels of various diseases, the rate of deaths before age 75 and the prevalence of babies born underweight. Orange County ranked seventh, and Los Angeles County ranked 26th.
In addition, San Diego County ranked 15th for social and economic factors such as education, unemployment, poverty and violent crime; 20th for medical care; 23rd for health behaviors such as tobacco use, diet, exercise and risky sexual activity; and 40th for physical environment.
In recent years, the region has received failing grades from the American Lung Association for daily particulate pollution and ozone, which is also known as smog.
Local health officials also have noted a lack of access to grocery stores and markets that sell fresh produce in poorer communities.
San Diego County would have fared better in the study had researchers expanded the physical environment category to include access to parks and sidewalks, Wooten said. Those features, which are widespread in the region, make it easier to take walks, jog and do other physical activity.
Wooten noted ongoing efforts in La Mesa, Chula Vista and other cities to upgrade public green spaces and create sidewalk routes linking neighborhoods to schools.
Meanwhile, the Network for a Healthy California has worked in recent years to establish more farmers markets that accept food stamps in poor communities.
About 38,000 people shopped last year at the farmers market in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, said Michelle Zive, executive director of the network in San Diego and Imperial counties.
“Fifty-five percent of them came for the fresh fruits and vegetables, and 30 percent of residents within City Heights that we surveyed actually had shopped at the farmers market,” Zive said.
Report data came from a range of government and academic sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics, The Dartmouth Institute and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The University of Wisconsin researchers said the results should prompt action — not just from local public-health officials but also from leaders in government, business, education and law enforcement.
“We’re trying to let people know that health is everyone’s business,” Booske said.
Keith Darcé: (619) 293-1020; keith.darce@uniontrib.com


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