Lake County is tops when it comes to clean air but the health of its residents ranks among the worst in the state.

Lake County ranked 53 out of 56 counties in the state for health factors that include diabetes, smoking, employment and longevity, according to a new study released by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Sonoma County ranked 12th and Mendocino County ranked 33rd. Marin County was in 1st place.

It seems confounding that an environmentally healthy location like Lake County would have such unhealthy residents, but it's not so surprising when the area's socioeconomic status is considered, said Lake County Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Tait.

"We have a huge unemployment rate here. The stress for those people living day to day does impact their health," she said. Lake County's unemployment rate was 19.2 percent in February. Sonoma County's was 10.2 percent and Marin County's was 7.8 percent.

Unemployment and poverty could be contributing to the high number of people who smoke and have diabetes and alcohol abuse problems, Tait said. People who are stressed and depressed by their economic situations may be less likely to take care of themselves, she said.

In Lake County, 23 percent of adults participating in a survey said they were cigarette smokers, compared with the statewide average of 15 percent, Tait said. Sonoma County's smoking rate also is 15 percent.

"It's distressing," Tait said. Smoking contributes to numerous health ailments, from heart disease to lung cancer, Tait noted.

Lake County also has a large number of people — 21 percent — who report drinking heavily or binge drinking, just slightly higher than Sonoma County, where 20 percent disclosed that behavior.

The lowest-ranked counties in the health survey were all northern and rural. They include Trinity, which ranked 56th; Del Norte, 55th; and Siskiyou, 54th. Yuba County ranked 52nd. But not all rural counties are unhealthy.

Lake County residents also were more likely to die before the age of 75 and to die from motor vehicle crashes. Deaths from motor vehicle crashes in Lake County were 28 per 100,000, compared with 12 per 100,000 in Sonoma County, according to the report.

That could be attributed at least partly to the fact that critically injured crash victims must be flown to hospitals outside the area, Tait said.

The full study can be viewed online at