Fresno, Tulare and Merced counties again are among the unhealthiest places in California, according to the eighth annual County Health Rankings released Wednesday.
Fresno ranked 52nd, Tulare 50th and Merced 49th among the 57 California counties analyzed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Madera ranked 45th, Mariposa 38th and Kings County ranked 37th.
The Valley county 2017 rankings are similar to previous years.
The healthiest counties in the 2017 report were San Mateo, Marin, Santa Clara, Placer and Sonoma.
The report evaluates nearly every county in the nation on a multitude of factors that influence health, including smoking, obesity, air pollution, preventable hospital stays and employment.
Fresno County ranked poorly in several categories, including 57th for quality of life, 53rd for social and economic factors and 54th for the physical environment.
The rankings show that Fresno County has to make health choices easier for people, said Sandra Celedon, head of the local Building Healthy Communities initiative in Fresno. “Public health is more than about making sure people have access to health care,” she said, adding that they need to “live in a community that supports public health.”
Public health is more than about making sure people have access to health care.
Sandra Celdedon, Fresno Building Healthy Communities
This year, the rankings include a new measure of young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or working. And counties in the central San Joaquin Valley had more than twice the percentage of youths not working or in school compared to the national average. Nationally, 9 percent of youths in the top-ranking counties were not in school or working. In California, 14 percent of the youths were disconnected from work or school. Fresno County was 18 percent, Merced 20 percent, Tulare 21 percent, Kings 22 percent and Madera 26 percent.
The rankings also took a close look at premature deaths and found that drug overdoses nationwide are increasing deaths for those ages 15 to 44. Eighty-five percent of the increase in premature deaths from 2014 to 2015 can be attributed to overdoses, the researchers said.
Among youths 15 to 24, deaths from drug overdoses have increased, but overall nearly three times as many young people die by homicide, suicide or in motor vehicle accidents, the researchers said.
The message of the rankings is for counties to have conversations with people in their communities about public health, said Jan O’Neill, associate researcher and community coach for the county health rankings.
Celedon said the 2017 health rankings show the need to strengthen the local public health department to foster a culture of prevention. In Boston, for example, a trauma team responds to violent incidents to provide support not only to the individual but to stabilize the community and connect people to resources. “At some point, we have to as a county understand the provision of services is a preventative factor,” she said.
18Percent of youths ages 16 to 24 not working or in school in Fresno County
Dr. Ken Bird, health officer for Fresno County, was not available to comment on the county’s health ranking on Tuesday. But for next week’s National Public Health Week, Bird wrote an opinion piece that cited “eight pillars of health”: individuals, families, employers, retailers, health care providers, educators, spiritual leaders/media and public officials.
Individuals need to adopt healthier behaviors, such as regular physical activity and eating habits, Bird said. Families need to provide safe, loving and supportive environments; employers need to provide a safe workplace and a culture of wellness; health care providers must offer prevention and makes access to care convenient; spiritual leaders and the media need to help people assess their health needs and to address them; and public officials need to design policies that consider the impact to public health.
Tammie Weyker, Tulare County health department spokeswoman, said the county could not comment on the health rankings Tuesday because the report had not yet been released to the public. It was embargoed for release until 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.