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