No surprises in recent state health rankings

Health behaviors cited as areas needed for improvement in recent report

Dr. Jacqueline Grant is the director of the Southwest Public Health District. She has been serving as the top public health official in Southwest Georgia since 2005. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)

Dr. Jacqueline Grant is the director of the Southwest Public Health District. She has been serving as the top public health official in Southwest Georgia since 2005. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)

ALBANY — A recent state-by-state health ranking shows little change from the previous year, with the health behaviors that still need to be worked on likely being the items most pertinent to the circumstances in Southwest Georgia, officials say.

In the most recent edition of United Health Foundation 2013 America Health Rankings, Georgia was No. 38 this year when compared to other states. Among the state’s strengths include a decrease in binge drinking from 16.6 percent to 14.4 percent, the high school graduation rate improved for the seventh consecutive year from 60.8 percent of incoming ninth-graders who finished high school in 2006 to 69.9 percent and there was a decrease from 7.7 to 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

In the challenges column, more than 2.1 million adults are obese with more than 720,000 having diabetes, the percent of children living in poverty increased from 20.4 percent in 2007 to 27.1 percent — an upward trend since the 2004 rankings — while the percentage of low birth weight infants, at 9.4 percent, has remained relatively constant for the last six years.

Among some of the other strengths noted in the report was a low incidence of pertussis infections and high immunization coverage in children.

Dr. Jacqueline Grant, director of the Southwest Public Health District, said that with the state ranking at No. 39 last year, indications are not much as changed — especially with some of the individual factors relatively unchanged.

“There has not been a whole lot of movement in the last few years,” she said. ” … We do well in immunizations. That is one of the high points.”

Without regional data to work from out of the report, Grant said the state data is likely pertinent to Southwest Georgia regarding certain behaviors as well as other factors including infectious disease, insurance coverage and clinical care access in that those are some of the weaker areas.

“In general, (our) high school graduation is not good,” she said. “Physical inactivity and obesity are high. The child poverty rate and infectious disease is also high in this area.

“Some of these things are things we are working on in public health to improve outcomes.”

These rankings are compiled based on a weighted average to pull out an overall score pertinent to other states. To some degree, based on how the scores are weighted, rural areas have a potential disadvantage.

“If you compared Southwest Georgia to metro areas in a lot of areas, (Southwest Georgia) would do worse,” Grant said. “We certainly have to look at health behaviors. If you can improve individual health, you can improve collective health.”

Among the specific actions being taken to improve on these numbers, Grant said, is continuing to promote tobacco cessation by dissuading teenagers from smoking while also encouraging at least 20-30 minutes a day on most days of physical activity and consumption of more fruits and vegetables.

In the meantime, preventive health screenings would ideally be promoted and continued to be made available while parents work with their children to help improve childhood graduation rates — and education is maintained to decrease poverty and teen pregnancy.

“It will take a village, so to speak,” Grant said of the graduation rates.

On a nationwide level, it has been acknowledged there is still considerable work to be done.

“I am encouraged by the progress we’ve made this year and hope that the leveling off we see in America’s obesity rate is a sign of further improvement to come,” said Dr. Reed Tuckson, external senior medical adviser to United Health Foundation when the report was released earlier this month.

“We should certainly celebrate these gains. They encourage us to continue to identify and effectively implement best practices that will continue progress in these areas and in addressing diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health conditions that compromise Americans’ health and vitality.”