Polk needs a checkup

The county ranks 98th in the state for healthy liv­ing and rates of the unin­sured.

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - From staff re­ports

Polk County’s res­i­dents might need to work on their weight, diet and much more based on the lat­est na­tional re­port that puts the lo­cal area well down on the list of ar­eas that are healthy.

The 2018 County Health Rank­ings & Roadmaps lists Polk County as 98th out of the 159 coun­ties in terms of over­all health out­comes, and 84th for the health fac­tors that af­fect lo­cal res­i­dents.

Floyd County by com­par­i­son is at 46th over­all, Bar­tow County comes in at 42nd, while neigh­bor­ing Gor­don is at 57, Chat­tooga. Har­al­son County ranked 85th.

In gen­eral, rank­ings are higher in the metro At­lanta re­gion and lower in the ru­ral middle and south Ge­or­gia coun­ties.

The an­nual re­port, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the Robert Wood Johnson Foun­da­tion and the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin Pop­u­la­tion Health In­sti­tute, looks at more than 30 fac­tors such as ed­u­ca­tion, jobs, and ac­cess to qual­ity health care.

The goal, re­searchers said, is to show how health is in­flu­enced by where we live, learn, work, and play — and to pro­vide start­ing points for change.

“We can’t be a healthy, thriv­ing na­tion if we con­tinue to leave en­tire com­mu­ni­ties and pop­u­la­tions be­hind,” said Dr. Richard Besser, RWJF pres­i­dent and CEO, in a state­ment co­in­cid­ing with the re­port’s re­lease.

Polk County has a lot of ar­eas to work on. For in­stance, the rate of pre­ventable hos­pi­tal stays per 1,000 Medi­care en­rollees is at 58, com­pared to the na­tional rank of 35, and a statewide num­ber of 50.

Adult obe­sity is on the rise in the county as well, and prob­a­bly one of the big­gest health fac­tors fac­ing lo­cal res­i­dents. Over a 10year av­er­age be­tween 2004 and 2014, Polk County’s obe­sity rate fluc­tu­ated but rose from 23 per­cent at the start of the pe­riod, to 35 per­cent by the end of the pe­riod. Cur­rent num­bers weren’t part of the re­port.

It goes well above the na­tional and statewide trends, where across the United States the per­cent­age rate of adults con­sid­ered obese went from 24 per­cent to just 28 per­cent over three year av­er­ages. Ge­or­gia’s statewide rate went from 26 per­cent to 30 per­cent.

The rate of smok­ers stood at 19 per­cent in the county as well, based on num­bers in 2016.

Polk also has a much higher ra­tio of peo­ple to pri­mary care physi­cians, a num­ber that stands as of 2015 at 3,460 to 1. Statewide, it av­er­ages 1,520 to 1; and the best-served coun­ties in the na­tion av­er­age 1,030 to 1.

Some im­prove­ments to note in the re­port - mam­mog­ra­phy screen­ing is up in Polk County, hav­ing taken a brief dip based on num­bers of women be­tween 67 and 69 get­ting screened. Be­tween 2006 and 2014, the per­cent­age of those women at that age get­ting screened started at 62 per­cent, but have gone up over the past years as high as 68 per­cent. The last year recorded in 2014 had the fig­ure pinned at 65 per­cent.

Driv­ing deaths are a lit­tle high as well. They stand at 16 per­cent in Polk, com­pared to 12 per­cent in neigh­bor­ing Floyd County. They were at 16 per­cent in Chat­tooga as well, 18 per­cent in Bar­tow, 33 per­cent in Gor­don County and 23 per­cent statewide.

Ad­di­tional im­prove­ments noted in the re­port as part of the so­cio-eco­nomic fac­tors were the in­crease in the grad­u­a­tion rate, noted at 81 per­cent for the 2014-15 school year.

The re­port looked at the per­cent­age of 9th-graders that grad­u­ated within four years. Here in Polk, that stood at 81 per­cent Statewide, the av­er­age among coun­ties was 80 per­cent. Gor­don County had 92 per­cent for the pe­riod cov­ered by the analysis; Chat­tooga had 86 per­cent; and Bar­tow hit the 80-per­cent av­er­age.

Top-per­form­ing coun­ties na­tion­wide had an av­er­age of 72 per­cent of their adults with some col­lege, which stands much lower at 45 per­cent in Polk County. The rates were 53 per­cent in Bar­tow, 44 per­cent in Gor­don and 37 per­cent in Chat­tooga.

Mean­while, one of the in­di­ca­tors also dis­cussed in the re­port fo­cused on unin­sured adults. And, while the health­i­est coun­ties re­ported an av­er­age of 6 per­cent of their res­i­dents with­out health in­surance, 16 per­cent of Ge­or­gians have no cov­er­age. The unin­sured rate was 18 per­cent in Floyd, Polk and Chat­tooga; 19 per­cent in Gor­don; and 16 per­cent in Bar­tow County.

In Floyd and sur­round­ing coun­ties, Bar­tow also had the low­est per­cent­age of res­i­dents aged 16 and older seek­ing em­ploy­ment, at 5.1 per­cent. The un­em­ploy­ment rate was 6 per­cent for Floyd, com­pared to 5.4 per­cent statewide and 3.2 per­cent in the top health­i­est coun­ties na­tion­ally.

The re­port also com­pared the dif­fer­ence in house­hold in­come be­tween the wealth­i­est 20 per­cent and poor­est 20 per­cent of res­i­dents in a county. Na­tion­ally, in­come in­equal­ity for most coun­ties ranged from 3.7 and 5.4. Top in­comes in Floyd were 4.9 times that of the low­est 20 per­cent. The ra­tio was 4 in Bar­tow, 4.2 in Gor­don, 4.6 in Polk and Chat­tooga and 5 statewide.

Julie Willems Van Dijk, di­rec­tor of the County Health Rank­ings & Roadmap project, said the data is a guide to ad­dress­ing long-stand­ing com­mu­nity chal­lenges.

“This year’s Rank­ings are a call to ac­tion to see how these per­sis­tent health gaps play out lo­cally, take an hon­est look at their root causes, and work to­gether to give ev­ery­one a fair shot at a health­ier life,” she said in a re­lease.

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