Beaufort County tops healthiest list again

Beaufort County residents are healthier, live longer and lead higher-quality lives than residents in any other part of the state, according to the 2015 County Health Rankings.

The annual list, compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, weighed 30 variables — premature deaths, smoking prevalence and obesity rates, among others — for nearly every county in the United States, including all 46 counties in South Carolina.

Beaufort tops the South Carolina list for at least the sixth year in a row.

The rankings do not compare counties in different states. For example, it’s not possible to determine with these lists if Beaufort is healthier than North Carolina’s best county.

Marlboro County, north of Florence, landed at the bottom of the South Carolina list this year. Meanwhile, Charleston County moved up three spots from sixth healthiest in 2014 to third healthiest in 2015.

The report also found:

South Carolina counties have higher rates of premature death and low birth-weight babies than the national average.

Residents in this state boast lower excessive drinking rates than residents in other parts of the country but the rate of alcohol-impaired driving deaths is higher here than the national average.

South Carolina counties have much lower high school graduation rates — 75 percent here compared to the 85 percent national average.

A higher percentage of children in South Carolina live in single-parent households — 40 percent here compared to 31 percent nationally.

Violent crime rates are almost three times higher in South Carolina counties than the national average.

All of these factors — income, insurance, education — contribute to population health, said Graham Adams, director of the South Carolina Office of Rural Health. That’s why so many rural counties rank at the very bottom of the list, he said.

“Folks in rural communities tend to be sicker,” he said. “That’s a lot of what we have to work on — how do you not only transform the local health system but the rural community itself?”

Megan Weis, associate director of outreach and program development at the South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health, said the problems rural counties face aren’t insurmountable.

The County Health Rankings allow local leaders to target areas that they need to address, like improving air quality or adding sidewalks, she said. Some of the solutions wouldn’t cost much money, she said, and there are already programs underway that look like they’re working.

For example, “Let’s Go Colleton County” wants to improve access to healthy food and increase physical activity in the area. Still, Colleton County ranks among the 10 unhealthiest in the state.

That won’t change overnight, Weis said, even though, “There is really, really strong work going on down there.”

“It’s very difficult for any county to move significantly from year to year,” she said. “It takes time for changes to take place.”

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.

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