ALBANY, Ga. -- The 2013 County Health Rankings report was released earlier this month, showing counties across the United States how they stack up against other counties in their respective states.
Overall, there were no surprises in how Southwest Georgia fared in the report.
The rankings, compiled annually by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, are based on 30 measures of health and well-being. Some of the data are measures directly related to health, including premature death, tobacco use, obesity and sexually transmitted infections.
Other factors, such as education, jobs, income and crime, are also included because numerous studies have shown that these factors often impact the health of a county's residents, those compiling the rankings said.
This particular ranking model focuses on two variables -- health outcomes and health factors. Health outcomes, for the purpose's of the report's analysis, are defined as measures describing the current health status of a county -- which are in turn influenced by a set of health factors.
In the health outcomes column, Lee County had the highest ranking of the 14 counties in the Southwest Public Health District with a score of 19 out of 159 counties. Terrell County, at 157, had the lowest health outcomes ranking for the region.
In terms of health factors, Lee also had the highest ranking at 15, while Decatur County had the least favorable ranking of the 14 counties at 152.
In a round-out of the metro Albany area, Dougherty had a health outcomes ranking of 109 and a health factors ranking of 132. Baker had a health outcomes ranking of 65 and a health factors ranking of 116, while Terrell had a health factors ranking of 149. Worth County had a health outcomes ranking of 66 and a health factors ranking of 72.
The summary of health outcome rankings were based on an equal weighing of mortality and morbidity measures, while the summary of health factors were based on weighing scores on health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.
Health behaviors, including variables such as tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol use and sexual activity, accounted for 30 percent of the health factors score. Clinical care, which took into account access and quality of care, was weighted at 20 percent. Social and economic factors -- including education, employment, income, family and social support and community safety -- accounted for 40 percent.
Physical environment, including environmental quality and built environment, accounted for 10 percent of the score.
Officials say the fact that socioeconomic factors accounted for 40 percent in the health factors analysis alone likely went a long way in why Lee County fared so well.
"That is one of the more well-off counties in our district," said Dr. Jacqueline Grant, director of the Southwest Public Health District. "I can pretty much believe (their current ranking) is where they would be."
Rather than focus on the changes in the rankings from year to year, Grant said it might be more useful to look at trends over a few years -- particularly in smaller counties where the data is more likely stray away from the median.
"When you look at Calhoun County, for example, they are 39 in health outcomes and 129 in health factors," she said. "With smaller numbers, it doesn't take much to flip it. You have to look at the bigger picture. ... In smaller counties, you could have a year where (the numbers) go up quite a bit.
"I would have to see several years of them being in that range to really believe they are in that (health outcomes) ranking."
The report showed that there are only four out of the 14 counties ranked in the upper half of the health outcomes category, and six in the upper half of the health factors category.
The key to reversing that, Grant said, will be focusing on improving the region's health behaviors.
"We have to look into what weighs into that," she said. "There are areas where we have work to do. They are modifiable to some degree.
"There are some big areas. As a community, there are some resources available and actions we need to take."
This means continuing to push tobacco cessation, early cancer screenings, improved nutrition and HIV testing, she said.
"There are things the community can do to move on these kinds of rankings," Grant said. "A lot of these problems seem to be entrenched, but the community has resources there to result in better health factors (and in turn, better health outcomes).
"In general, there are no surprises (regarding how Southwest Georgia did in the rankings)."
Data from 2004-12 was taken into account for the report from various sources including the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the Dartmouth Institute, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Agriculture Food Environment Atlas.
The 2013 rankings were the first to include infant mortality rates, and reinforce the Georgia Department of Public Health's investigation of infant mortality rates in the state -- which identified six clusters throughout Georgia where officials say the problem was most significant.
In Georgia, the top 10 counties in the 2013 rankings were Forsyth, Fayette, Oconee, Gwinnett, Cherokee, Cobb, Columbia, Morgan, Coweta and Rockdale.
For more data on individual counties, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.