ALBANY -- The Partner Up! for Public Health Campaign's 2012 Power Ratings of Georgia counties, based on combined health status and economic vitality, were released last week.
The results don't look so good for many counties in Southwest Georgia.
"We look at those (numbers) every year," said Brenda Greene, deputy director of the Southwest Public Health District. "It's significant to us as we are looking at health outcomes for counties in our district.
"Some of our counties did poorly."
Funded by Healthcare Georgia Foundation, the Partner Up! for Public Health Campaign's health and economic power ratings combine county-level health outcome rankings produced by the University of Wisconsin with economic rankings calculated by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs in connection with the state's job tax credits program.
The University of Wisconsin program provides health outcome rankings for most of the counties in the United States, including 156 of the 159 in Georgia, based on a variety of factors including premature death, the percentage of the population reporting being in poor or fair health, the number of work days missed for reasons of poor mental or physical health and the percentage of babies born with a low birth weight.
The DCA job tax credit rankings are built on a formula that incorporates average per capita income, the local unemployment rate and the local poverty rate. Since the purpose of the job tax credit program is to steer jobs to Georgia's poorest counties, the DCA rankings list counties from worst to best.
For the purpose of its analysis, the Partner Up! campaign reversed the DCA rankings to compare it to the University of Wisconsin health outcome rankings. The power ratings add the resulting economic rankings to the health outcomes rankings and then divide the total by two.
Of the counties within the Southwest Georgia health district, Lee County fared the best with a health outcome ranking of 19, a tax credit ranking of 14 and a power rating of 16.5. Down the list from Seminole and Thomas counties, Worth County received a health outcome ranking of 78, a tax credit ranking of 64 and a power rating of 71.
Dougherty County fared worse than Miller, Baker, Grady, Colquitt, Mitchell and Decatur counties with a health outcome ranking of 114, a tax credit ranking of 107 and a power rating of 110.5.
Behind Early County, the last two in the health district's area -- Terrell and Calhoun counties -- rounded out the list just above the bottom. Terrell had a health outcome ranking of 155, a tax credit ranking of 120 and a power rating of 137.5. Calhoun had a health outcome ranking of 154, a tax credit ranking of 139 and a power rating of 146.5.
Officials say that Southwest Georgia's outcomes are linked to socioeconomic issues, as well as a shortage of resources to take care of the region's ills.
"What may be a large part of it is a poorer socioeconomic standing ... lack of transportation, affordability, lack of insurance or unemployment," Greene said. "These are things we've been concerned about."
Greene added that, at least from a public health perspective, the most cost-effective way of improving the region's standings is working with partner agencies to ramp up screening and education efforts.
"(We encourage people) to get screened and eat healthy," she said. "Sometimes that's all we can do. We also (need to) talk to decisionmakers and hopefully get more funding.
"We've recognized this trend for some time, but it is no less disturbing."
For this area specifically, Greene said the target areas have -- and continue to be -- obesity, tobacco cessation and infant mortality.
"Those are areas we have serious focus on," she said. "Obesity and tobacco (alone) impact a lot of chronic conditions."
Fayette County, located just south of Atlanta, finished first in the state health outcomes rankings and third in the economic rankings. Oconee County, in northeast Georgia near Athens-Clarke County, topped the economic rankings and finished third in the health outcomes rankings. The two thus tied for the top spot with an overall power rating of 2.
At the bottom of the scale, Macon County, located in west-central Georgia about 50 miles southwest of Macon, finished at 142 on the health outcomes rankings and 156 on the economic rankings, for a combined power rating of 149.
Three of Georgia's 159 counties -- Echols, Taliaferro and Webster -- are too small to generate sufficient data for health outcomes rankings and are therefore not included.
The ratings, officials say, are part of a larger campaign effort called "Connecting the Dots: Community Health & Economic Vitality," which is aimed at educating opinion leaders and the public at large about the relationship between the health of local populations and its economies.
"You'd think this would be intuitive," said Charles Hayslett, CEO of Hayslett Group LLC, the firm managing the Partner Up! campaign, in a statement. "We all know that we're more productive when we're healthy than when we're down with a cold or the flu or something worse. The same is true at a community level.
"But as we've pursued this campaign over the past couple of years, it's become more and more apparent that this linkage simply is not well-appreciated by a lot of people, including some in leadership positions. So we decided that we needed to try to reintroduce the concept into the public dialogue about health status and the role of the public health system in securing and improving the health of all Georgians."
Since first developing the power ratings analysis based on 2011 data from the University of Wisconsin study and the DCA, officials say Hayslett and the campaign team have presented the study to more than two dozen business, civic, political and governmental audiences.
Officials also say the 2012 data produced few significant changes.
"There are several takeaways from this," said Hayslett. "The most basic is that if a county does well in either health status or economic vitality, it's likely to do well in the other -- and vice versa. If they do poorly in one, they tend to do poorly in the other. The clustering appears to be strongest at the top and bottom of the list."