Report deems Sonoma County 6th healthiest in state
Improvements in the rates of premature death, childhood poverty and unemployment are among the trends that helped Sonoma County earn recognition in a new nationwide report as the sixth-healthiest county in California.
The current results mark the third consecutive year the county has shown improvement in annual health rankings compiled by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Previously, the county ranked eighth in 2015 and 12th in 2014.
“These reports are really useful in raising awareness,” said Karen Milman, Sonoma County’s health officer. “It’s always good to have some metrics to know that you’re moving in the right direction.”
But Milman said the report card continues to point out the county’s healthcare shortcomings, with the county lagging the statewide average in both adult smoking and obesity rates.
The report found Sonoma County had 4,700 “years of potential lost life” for every 100,000 people. That rate was 4,942 in last year’s report and 5,233 in the 2014 report.
The rate is based on the number of years of lost potential life before age 75. For example, someone who dies at 25 contributes 50 years of life lost, but a person who dies at 65 contributes only 10 years of life lost to the rate.
North Coast health officials said the report uses data that is a few years old, up to 2014, so the most recent efforts to improve rankings won’t appear until a two or more years from now. The health rankings can be found at www.countyhealthrankings.org.
Other results for Sonoma County that bested state trends this year include 14 percent of children living in poverty, compared to 23 percent statewide. The child poverty rate is 13 percent for the nation’s “top performers.”
Unemployment in this year’s report, based on 2014 numbers, was 5.6 percent for those over 16, compared to 7.5 percent for the state. The county’s unemployment ranking last year was 6.7 percent, compared to 8.9 for the state. Unemployment has dropped to 4.1 percent in Sonoma County as of February of this year.
This year’s report found that adult obesity in the county — defined as the share of adults that report a body mass index of 30 or more — was at 27 percent, compared to 23 percent for the state. And the share of adults who smoke tobacco was 15 percent, compared to 12 percent for the state.
Milman said recent efforts to curb smoking in public places, improve nutrition in school lunch programs and encourage physical activity should begin to be reflected in future rankings with lower obesity rates. The key to achieving such goals, health officials said, is creating environments that make changing such behaviors easier.
“You can’t just be focused on health education; you have to change the environment,” she said. “That’s how we’ve been successful with tobacco; that’s how we’ll be successful with obesity.”
Living healthier longer is a key goal for many of the older residents who participate in a Santa Rosa YMCA fitness class called “Stay Fit Forever.”
“We’re trying,” Sookbin Choy, 67, of Santa Rosa said Monday just before the morning class started. Choy said she likes the class because “it gets your heart beating.”