Howard County was named the healthiest county in the state for the fourth consecutive year, according to a ranking of counties across the U.S. released on Wednesday.
The rankings were released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which examined factors such as premature death, adult smoking, high school graduation rates and insurance coverage rates to determine the overall health of counties.
Researchers found that Howard had low rates of adult smoking, adult obesity and premature death compared to the state. Also, the county had high levels of positive factors such as a strong primary care physician ratio, high rates of diabetes screenings and a low level of uninsured residents.
In addition, researchers found Howard to be best in the state in social and economic factors. The county has a 91 percent high school graduation rate, compared to the state's 83 percent. And Howard's unemployment rate is 5.1 percent, compared to 7 percent in the state.
“This distinction highlights the strength of our community-wide approach for promoting health and wellness in Howard County,” said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO of the Horizon Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting health in the county.
In a YouTube video, County Executive Ken Ulman said, “When we set out six years ago to make the model public health community in Howard County, to focus on access to affordable healthcare, to focus on leading the way by example… we knew that we would make progress, but we’ve done it. Four straight years. Again, thank you to everyone for the progress we made together.”
The county's lowest ranking - 6th - came in the "Physical Environment" section. Bringing the ranking down in particular is the fact that, according to the study, 58 percent of all restaurants in Howard County are fast food restaurants.
Howard still ranked below the state averaged of 60 percent fast food restaurants.
The national benchmark is 27 percent.
Montgomery, Frederick Queen Anne’s and Carroll County rounded out the top five healthiest counties in the state and Baltimore City was found to be the least healthy.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation began ranking counties on health factors in 2010.
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