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Marin regains rank as state’s healthiest county

March 14, 2018 | Richard Halstead | The Marin Independent Journal

Marin has regained its mantle as the healthiest county in California, based on rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The annual rankings compare California’s 58 counties on more than 30 factors that influence health including length of life, quality of life, health behaviors, access to health care, socioeconomic factors and physical environment. The years of data used to create the rankings vary widely by data category.

Last year, after seven consecutive years of being ranked No. 1, Marin slipped to No. 2 behind San Mateo County. Now it has reclaimed the title.

“The rankings highlight some of the healthiest aspects of our county. There is a lot to celebrate here,” said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County public health officer. “For example, high rates of regular physical activity and healthy nutrition contribute directly to our long life expectancy.”

According to the new report, only 12 percent of Marin residents over the age of 20 report having no leisure physical activity, the lowest in the state. Marin tied with San Francisco and Santa Cruz counties for the lowest percentage of obese residents, 18 percent. Marin has the third lowest percentage of residents who smoke tobacco, 10 percent.

Not all of Marin’s habits are so healthy, however. The 20 percent of Marin residents who report binge or heavy drinking in the last 30 days is among the highest in the state, as is Marin’s share of driving deaths with alcohol involvement, 32 percent.

Another reason for Marin’s consistently high health ranking is the access that its residents have to health care. According to the report, there is one primary care physician for every 630 Marin residents and one mental health provider for every 140 Marin residents. Only San Francisco County posts higher numbers in these categories.

The report, however, makes clear that good health is influenced by a number of factors beyond medical care.

“To address health, we must address housing, education, child care and other social determinants,” said Mary Pittman, president of the Public Health Institute. “And to address those, we must face the impact of racism, income inequality and immigration policy in communities.”

According to the report, only five California counties have ratios of income inequality higher than Marin’s, and Marin’s segregation index between white and non-white residents was second only to Modoc County.

Willis said the high average life expectancy of Marin residents is one of the strongest factors in the county’s No. 1 ranking.

“But when we scratch under the surface what we see is it is quite variable by community in Marin,” he said.

Willis said there is a 15-year difference in life expectancy between residents of Ross, whose residents are mostly affluent and white, and residents of Marin City, who are mostly black and poor.

A similar pattern emerges when the child poverty rankings in the new report are examined. Marin’s 9 percent child poverty rate is the third lowest in the state, but that is an average for all children living in Marin. The child poverty rate among black children in Marin is 22 percent and for Hispanic children it is 24 percent.

Continue reading the full article in the Marin Independent Journal.