A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.ranks Cobb sixth behind Forsyth, Fayette, Oconee, Gwinnett and Cherokee counties. The other Top 10 counties are Columbia, Morgan, Coweta and Rockdale.
Rankings are based on a number of indicators, including the percentage of residents who smoke, are obese, have diabetes, do or don’t exercise, can or cannot afford health insurance, live near recreational areas or parks and are employed. Overall death rates and median household incomes also are considered.
All of the top six healthy counties are in the top tier of Georgia counties in terms of wealth.
Kristin Caudell, WellStar’s director of corporate and community health, said she believes Cobb is ranked highly because there are people locally who have taken time to educate themselves on living healthy lifestyles.
“We at WellStar want to be a strong support for a healthy community,” she said. “We really want to empower people with the knowledge so they can take action through prevention with their wellness.”
Among the areas in which Cobb continues to improve are the number of premature deaths and the adult smoking rate.
Joy Wells, director of epidemiology and infectious diseases at Cobb & Douglas Public Health, attributes a strong healthcare network, medical innovations and good individual awareness for positive medical practices regarding premature deaths.
She said tobacco education about the risks of smoking and the Georgia Smoke Free Air Act also has helped reduce smoking numbers.
Can Cobb do better than sixth?
Cobb has dropped in the rankings since the state department began its study four years ago. It was fourth in 2010 and fifth in 2011.
Caudell, Wells and Lisa Crossman, Cobb & Douglas Public Health’s director of the Center for Clinical and Prevention Services, couldn’t say why Cobb had seen its ranking drop or why a larger county like Gwinnett might rank higher.
Wells agreed there is still work to do in Cobb.
“We are well below the national target for many health indicators, and we have a large population of residents who still do not have access to regular primary health care,” she said.
Her department also continues to be worried about some of the key health statistics for youth and minority populations.
“None of it is really an easy fix, but the biggest problem hands down is obesity,” Caudell said.
She said being overweight can affect every aspect of a person’s health, from heart problems and diabetes to cancer.
“Childhood obesity has also become such a large problem,” she said. “We are trying to partner with different agencies to try and make a difference in that area.”
Crossman said other risky health lifestyle behaviors like tobacco, alcohol and other drug use, particularly in youth, injuries from traffic accidents and sexually transmitted diseases, also continue to be concerning in Cobb.
Lack of access to affordable healthcare
“Although we have a very strong network for healthcare in our community, we still have large pockets of residents who do not have access to regular, quality primary healthcare,” Crossman said.
She said this means that prevention and early detection efforts are not being accessed, and many residents are waiting until health issues become catastrophic before they seek care. Their only contact with a doctor is at the hospital emergency room.
“This is both expensive and traumatic for the individual and our community,” she said.
For more information visit cobbanddouglaspublichealth.org, cobb2020.com or countyhealthrankings.org.
What’s happening in the rest of the state?
Unlike metro Atlanta counties like Cobb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Clayton, Henry or DeKalb, a majority of the lower-ranking counties are located in central or south Georgia, where poverty tends to be more widespread.
Caudell explained why this is the case.
“The biggest challenge for some of the more rural areas is the access to healthy food,” she said. “Their economic level being lower makes it less affordable for them to make healthier food choices.”
Caudell said resources for educational tools to make better health choices may be more limited in those areas as well.