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Sarasota Ranked State's Third Healthiest County

A study by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin released the 2012 County Health Rankings as part of a national study

Sarasota Ranked State's Third Healthiest County

Sarasota County is healthy people with relatively easy access to healthful foods, according to a report that ranked the county as the third healthiest in Florida.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin released the 2012 County Health Rankings Tuesday to show what residents are receptive to and actively involved in to improve their overall health, and what areas could use some improvement.

This year’s report can be viewed at  www.countyhealthrankings.org.

“We were pleased that Sarasota County’s health ranking improved overall. During the two previous years, the health outcome overall ranking was fourth. This year’s overall third-place ranking among Florida’s 67 counties affirms that Sarasota County is a great place to work, live, and raise our families,” said Administrator Chuck Henry. 

“Our high ranking reflects the priority that our community has placed on healthy environments and healthy lifestyles,” he added. “Placing emphasis on the quality of its parks and recreation facilities, ­and in helping ensure that everyone has access to quality health care, including preventive screenings for diabetes and breast cancer, helps to improve the health of our community.”

Neighbors in Manatee County ranked 20th while Charlotte County to the south ranked 25th overall.

is credited for helping the county maintain a good ranking,  The Herald-Tribune reports:

"David Patterson, executive director for cardiovascular services and business development for Sarasota Memorial Hospital, said the hospital coordinates closely with the Sarasota County Health Department, community physicians and others to keep people well and out of the hospital.

Efforts include helping the uninsured and a cardiac clinic for patients with heart disease. He also said the hospital runs a special clinic for patients who need blood thinners to prevent strokes.

Patterson also credited the ranking to residents who take a sharp interest in their health.

“We have a well educated population that does its research and wants to be informed about the medications they are taking and why they take them. Those who aren’t as educated, we do a good job making them well informed,” he said."

Mental Health, Substance Abuse Needs Work

Health officials say that even though Sarasota County ranks among the best in the state for some factors, mental health needs improved.

Stress people can experience can be handled in various ways and major events can lead to excessive drinking, increased risk for motor vehicle crashes and suicides, according to county officials. They took the opportunity to point out some programs available to people to bring up the ranking.

“We know that these issues do not stop at the county line so local hospital and health department CEOs collaborate on a number of health initiatives across the region,” said Community Health Improvement Partnership (CHIP) director Kari Ellingstad. “One effort is ‘Safe Rx,’ which facilitated the establishment of safe disposal sites for unused prescription medications and education for pharmacists and health care providers in a four-county area.”

According to Sarasota County Behavioral Health Coordinator Brooke Baker, Sarasota County was the first community in the state to establish a county ordinance that is effectively addressing record keeping, staffing and training issues relating to pain management clinics, while also promoting the use of The Electronic-Florida Online Reporting of Controlled Substances Evaluation program (E-FORCSE), which is Florida's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). Sarasota County is now assisting other counties in similar efforts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco use and obesity are the leading causes of preventive disease and death in the U.S.

The Sarasota County Health Department’s Tobacco Prevention Program focuses on fostering behavior change through policy initiatives such as restricting candy-flavored tobacco sales in retail establishments, creating breathe easy zones at college campuses and tobacco-free campuses across Sarasota County, as well as assisting property managers in eliminating tobacco use in apartment communities.

Other rankings that needs improvement:

• 13th for mortality 

• 18th in social and economic factors (education, children in poverty, violent crime)

Eating Well

County-wide efforts to address obesity include involvement in the federal Healthy Weight Collaborative.

A group led by the Community Health Improvement Partnership was selected as just one of ten teams across the nation to participate in phase one of this initiative, which focuses on working across sectors to expand obesity prevention and treatment efforts.

“Limited access to healthy foods” and “fast food restaurants” were added as measures of the health of our physical environment in this year’s County Health Rankings.

These measures take into consideration the variance in the distribution of farmers markets and supermarkets in urban verses rural area and are a proxy measure for nutritional status and risk for obesity, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.

The Newtown Community Health Action Team, a group of residents working on a grass-roots level to promote a healthier community, are developing an action plan designed to identify more resources for fresh foods and to create partnerships with local food retailers.

The group with help of students form State College of Florida performed a healthful food audit of grocery stores and other food retailers in the Newtown and North Saraota areas, according to the county.

Ultimately, this group wants to increase access to better foods and secure subsidies for healthy store makeovers.

This initiative came as a result of a healthy food audit of food retailers in the Newtown/North Sarasota area conducted by the CHAT with support from students from State College of Florida. Their vision is to increase access to healthy foods, including helping stores market healthy food options and drawing from the experiences of cities like New Orleans, Louisiana, and Brooklyn, New York, by securing subsidies for “Healthy Store Makeovers."

“The County Health Rankings provide our community with tools and guidance on ways we can take action to further improve health,” added Henry. “With the knowledge, we as a community can take steps to continue to work toward creating a healthier Sarasota County.”

“Health is everyone’s business. Working together, we can make Sarasota County a healthier place to live, learn, work and play,” said Sarasota County Administrator Randall Reid.

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