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San Juan tops the state's 39 counties in health rankings

Chalk up another claim to fame for the San Juans.

Results of a recently-released survey show that in a head-to-head comparison of more than two dozen health-related statistics, including screening for diabetes, adult obesity and years lost to premature death, San Juan is tops among Washington state's 39 counties.

Rankings are based on information reported by state and by county health departments regarding health outcomes and health factors.

Health outcomes are based mostly on the disease and death rates in each county, while health factors pull together data concerning health-related behaviors, like tobacco and alcohol use, and obesity rates, as well as social and economic conditions, such as income and unemployment levels, access to healthcare and environmental factors.

Ranking of the state's counties are included as part of nationwide survey of counties conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Results of the Institute's survey were released Wednesday.

Though it's a notable distinction, county Health Director John Manning said there's room for improvement even with San Juan County's No. 1 state ranking.

At 30 percent, Manning noted the number of adults who lack health insurance is twice the state average. And while obesity may be low overall, he said that among local health officials it remains a "real concern" for the islands' youth.

"We still have issues," Manning said. "Just because we're the best doesn't mean we can't improve."

According to the survey, the rate at which islanders enrolled in Medicare are screened for diabetes is among the state's highest, at 91 percent. The rate of preventable hospital stays is about half the state average.

Overall, San Juan is rated No. 1 among the state's 39 counties in health behaviors, No. 1 in health outcomes, No. 2 in social and economic factors that affect health; 16th in clinical care and 38th – next to last – in physical environment.

According to local officials, the low rating in that category may likely be the result of the manner in which statistics were calculated rather than a reflection of conditions on the ground. The survey shows a larger than average number of days in which the islands' air contains an unhealthy amount of "particulate matter" -- 17 days a year versus a statewide average of two -- and a liquor-store density that's more than 2.5 times the state average.

San Juan, Manning noted, is lumped together with its neighboring counties in north Puget Sound, where periodic bans on wood-burning stove are not uncommon, when air-quality data is compiled. Regional statistics may account for the spike in San Juans' particulate matter, he said.

"That would be my guess," he added. "But that's speculation."

The survey did not take into account the fractured geography of the islands or the separation of the population in calculating services and commercial densities.

In addition to San Juan, Douglas, King, Whatcom and Whitman are among the state's other high-rated counties. Ferry County, located in the northeastern corner of the state, rated last in both health outcomes and health factors.

The complete rankings of Washington’s counties and more state and national health information are available on the county Health Rankings Website: http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/washington

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