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Ranking says Saratoga County the healthiest in region

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
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Trish McSweeney, left, and Mary Ann Penney, both of Saratoga Springs, jog through Spa State Park on Dec. 23.
Trish McSweeney, left, and Mary Ann Penney, both of Saratoga Springs, jog through Spa State Park on Dec. 23.

— Some of the state’s healthiest residents live in Saratoga County, according to the fourth annual County Health Rankings released Tuesday.

Saratoga County is the state’s fifth healthiest county, after Livingston, Rockland, Tompkins and Putnam counties, according to the rankings, which are put out each year by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. It’s perhaps not too surprising for a county that’s home to Saratoga Springs, a city with the motto: “Health, History, Horses.”

Schoharie County ranked 13th in the state for overall health. Albany County ranked 27th, Schenectady County ranked 38th, Montgomery County ranked 47th and Fulton County ranked 53rd.

The county health rankings rate the overall health of nearly every county in the nation, and are determined based on a weighted formula that looks at health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, physical environment, mortality and morbidity. Data on vital statistics, sexually transmitted disease rates and Medicare claims, among others, come from a variety of sources, including the National Center for Health Statistics, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare.

“The County Health Rankings can be put to use right away by leaders in government, business, health care and every citizen motivated to work together to create a culture of health in their community,” said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president and CEO, in a news release issued Tuesday. “The Rankings are driving innovation, unleashing creativity and inspiring big changes to improve health in communities large and small throughout the country.”

Saratoga County fared better than the state and the nation on several factors affecting health. Its premature death rate, or the number of years of potential life lost before age 75, was 4,858 — besting the state’s 5,650 years lost and the nation’s 5,317 years lost. Premature death in the county has declined over the last decade, according to rankings data.

The county has a teen birth rate of 16, meaning 16 teenagers give birth out of every 1,000 in the county. In New York, this number increases to 25. Nationwide, the number settles at 21.

Factors that contribute to an unhealthy Capital Region are varied. Adult smoking and obesity rates tended to be high across all counties, except for Saratoga.

The violent crime rate in Schenectady County was 467 per 100,000 residents — one of the worst rates in the state.

For rural Schoharie County, the ratio of primary care physicians and dentists to population brought the county’s ranking down.

In rural Fulton and Montgomery counties, residents have much more to worry about when it comes to their health. Both counties were ranked low because of factors like smoking, obesity and high school graduation rates. Montgomery County had issues with safe drinking water and limited access to healthy foods, while Fulton County had issues with its hospitalization rates among Medicare patients and a high percentage of children living in single-parent households.

The annual report acknowledges, however, that there is no one “correct” formula to perfectly represent the health of a community. Even a county with very good rankings might not perform so well over a long period of time.

Saratoga County has popped up in the top five ranked healthy counties every year the report has been issued, though. In fact, it was ranked the second healthiest in 2010 and 2011, and the third healthiest in 2012.

The 2013 report shows that 9 percent of Saratoga County residents are uninsured, compared to 14 percent of uninsured New Yorkers and 11 percent of uninsured Americans.

Saratoga County scores well on education, too, which has proven to influence health in more indirect ways. The county has an 88 percent high school graduate rate, scoring higher than the state at 77 percent. In addition, 72 percent of county residents have received at least some college education, compared to 64 percent of New Yorkers and 70 percent of Americans.

Child poverty is low in Saratoga County at 9 percent. Statewide, 23 percent of children are in poverty. Nationwide, 14 percent of children are in poverty. Nationally, county rankings data revealed that childhood poverty rates are twice as high in unhealthy counties.

Saratoga County also has high access to recreational facilities, with 18 facilities per 100,000 residents compared to the state’s 11 and the nation’s 16. Access to these facilities was ranked among other physical environment factors that can affect health — like limited access to healthy foods, the widespread presence of fast food restaurants and the safety of drinking water.

Other countywide data that are interesting to note: adult obesity rates and physical inactivity have increased since 2004, but still fall below national obesity rates. Diabetic and mammography screenings have both increased slightly since 2003, and have outpaced both New York and the nation.

“We all have a stake in creating a healthier community and no single sector alone can tackle the health challenges in any given community,” said Patrick Remington, professor and associate dean at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Collaboration is critical. The rankings are sparking action all over the country as people from all sectors join forces to create new possibilities in health — county by county.”

For more detailed information on your county’s health rankings, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.

 
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