A jump in the rate of exercise, a decline in premature deaths and a drop in violent crime were some of the trends that helped Sonoma County earn recognition in a new nationwide report as the eighth-healthiest county in California.
The rates of teen births, adult obesity and preventable hospital stays were all down, combining with other positive trends that moved Sonoma County up into the top 10 healthiest counties in the state, according to the 2015 County Health Rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The county’s previous statewide ranking was 12th.
The annual report, generated using state and federal data sources, was released today. The snapshot employs a range of measurements, from diet choices and poverty rates to drinking water safety and availability of dental care, to gauge health, quality of life and socioeconomic conditions across U.S. counties.
Sonoma County beat state averages for most of the indicators. It received poorer scores in other categories, including rates of smoking among adults, excessive drinking and deaths from injury, the report showed.
Eight years ago, the county set a goal to be the healthiest in the state, and local officials said the latest report card showed that residents’ overall well-being continues to improve.
“It’s excellent news,” county health officer Karen Millman said. “Where we have made progress is both the length of life as well as the socioeconomic factors that are contributing to people’s health.”
Among California’s 58 counties, only tiny Alpine County in the Sierra Nevada was not ranked.
In Sonoma County, the premature death rate — as measured by “years of potential life lost” before age 75 — declined 6 percent, from an estimate of 5,233 years in the 2014 rankings to 4,942 in this year’s rankings. The figure is a rate per 100,000 population.
In another measure, the share of local adults age 20 and older who reported no time for physical activity went from 14 to 12 percent. Physical activity includes such things as running, calisthenics, golf, gardening or walking.
The number of violent crimes in the county per 100,000 people went from 382 to 366 in the 2015 rankings. Violent crimes include such offenses as homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. The statewide violent-crimes rate was 425 per 100,000 people.
Kate Konkle, associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, said the rankings are aimed at making counties look at health in a more comprehensive way, one that involves leaders in business, education, community development and anyone else impacted by the 30 health factors measured.
“We really want this to be an opportunity for communities to start the conversation about health and to broaden the conversation about health … to talk about local solutions so that everybody can have that same option to live a long and healthy life,” she said.
While Sonoma County has improved its overall health ranking, Konkle pointed out that the rankings are relative and it may be that other counties did worse this time around.
“Either way, you do rank fairly well in California,” she said, adding that she hopes county officials “dig deeper” into the data to determine where more work needs to be done.
As it has since at least 2010, Marin County continued to hold the No. 1 overall ranking in the report. Lake County moved up one spot this year to 56; Napa moved up two spots to 13; and Mendocino moved up nine spots to 35.