For nine years, the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have been working together to evaluate and rank the healthfulness of Florida’s 67 counties (as well as the rest of counties in America). For the first time in those nine years, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward Counties are all among the top ten, indicating good health in South Florida.
Miami-Dade made a particularly commendable jump, moving from 23rd on the list to fifth. Broward moved nine places to breach the top ten and Palm Beach stayed put at number eight. A county’s ranking can change because other counties rise and fall, but it does seem like South Florida has improved healthfulness recently.
Geographic discrepancies between counties
Obviously, not all counties experience movement. St. Johns held the top spot again, as it has every year since 2012. Union County was the second least healthy county for the second year running.
The report doesn’t list the details of each county’s progress or regression, but the factors include all types of criteria. Familiar data, such as smoking rates, and less familiar data, such as number of poor mental health days are used to create the list.
Many of the factors are controlled by people, not healthcare systems. That means the citizens of each county play a big part in its ranking.
South Florida holds a number of healthy counties, possibly because of higher income and education level. There is also a comprehensive healthcare system that blankets the lower part of the state.
“You can’t drive down the street without being reminded of a half-dozen nearby hospitals, and few intersections down here don’t have a CVS or Walgreens,” says Linda Quick, former president of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association.
Relevant factors in South Florida
From year to year, every county sees certain changes. For the counties of South Florida, birth weights and STD infections took a wrong turn.
Low birth weights were high – almost 10% higher than the national average. That is a notable variance. While collecting STD data, the study officials found that Broward’s citizens had higher rates than the state average. Miami-Dade was on par with the norm and Palm Beach County’s was slightly below the state average.
Nonetheless, there were improvements in other areas.
The food environment index, which measures the availability of food in an area, showed that a steady supply of food was available for the citizens. The top 10% of U.S. counties averaged an 8.1 rating on this index. Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade rated 7.9, 7.8, and 9.1 respectively.
Furthermore, smoking rates were lower in South Florida.
The three South Florida counties also saw improvement when referring to the following metrics:
- Teen birth rates
- Poor mental health days
- Healthy food index
- Availability of mental healthcare providers
- Unemployment rate
- Rate of uninsured citizens
Benefits of the study
While it might be easy to look at these rankings as a list of winners and losers, that’s not really the point. The purpose of the study is to identify which areas are doing well, which areas need help, and to figure out how to bridge the gap between them.
“The major goal of the rankings is to raise awareness about the many factors that influence health and that health varies from place to place, not to produce a list of the healthiest 10 or 20 counties in the nation and only focus on that,” a statement on the study’s website says.
Ideally, these rankings will serve as a way to craft better health initiatives, such as those marketed by Miami-Dade County’s Health Department. In Miami-Dade, officials promote the use of parks, exercise, and healthy living. In Broward, the Regional Health Planning Council helps create a flow of healthy fruits and vegetables by establishing farmer’s markets and promoting home gardening.
It is these sort of programs that transform counties like Hamilton, Gadsden, and Putnam into Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade.
How does your county rank?
Every county is different. Check out the ranking for your county at the County Health Rankings and Roadmap website, where you can find which factors most influence the healthfulness of your area.