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Wide health gulf exists among Georgia counties

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They are only miles apart, but a wide gulf exists between Columbia County and surrounding counties in the Augusta area when it comes to heart disease and other health measures, recent data shows. It is a pattern that shows up all over the state and is likely because of longstanding economic patterns, one expert said.

In data published recently in the journal PLoS ONE, a county-by-county look at hypertension, treatment and control found “wide disparities” among counties, especially within a state such as Georgia, said Dr. Ali Mokdad, the head of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s U.S. County Performance team at the University of Washington. In 2009, for example, there was nearly a 20 percent difference in men’s hypertension rates between the best counties, such as Forsyth (32 percent) and Columbia (34 percent), and the worst, such as Hancock (51.8 percent) and Taliaferro (51.4 percent). Many of the worst counties also showed greater increases in rates from 2001 compared with the best counties, the report found.

“There are people falling behind,” Mokdad said. The same holds true for women, who actually have higher rates than men, though this is not well known even by women themselves, Mokdad said.

“They don’t see heart disease as being their No. 1 killer,” he said.

Women do well with mammograms and pay attention to breast cancer, which is good, Mokdad said.

“But at the same time they are not doing equally so when it comes to other risk factors, blood pressure and cholesterol,” he said. “The system has to do a better job educating women, and women have to also understand that they have the same risk factors when it comes to cardiovascular disease as men.”

The disparity among counties also shows up in the 2013 Power Ratings of Georgia counties put out by Partner Up! for Public Health. The rating combines health outcomes reported by county annually from the University of Wisconsin with economic rankings by county from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. In that listing, Columbia County is fourth (seventh best in health but second in economic strength); Lincoln County was tied for 87th; Richmond County was 108th; McDuffie was 109th; Screven County was 131st; Jefferson County was 142nd; Burke was 147th; Warren was 149th; and Taliaferro was next to last at 157th because two counties in south Georgia tied for dead last.

As with the hypertension numbers, there is a stark difference in health measures between the top counties and the bottom counties in Georgia, said Charles Hayslett, who is managing the Partner Up! campaign.

“It’s like two different planets,” he said. “It could not be more striking.”

Earlier this year, Hayslett compared the top counties north of Atlanta with some of the lowest in southwest Georgia, near the Alabama line, in a piece headlined “From Minnesota to Mississippi.

“If you look at their health metrics,” Hayslett said, “you couldn’t believe they are from the same state.”

And the same is true for many of the rural counties surrounding the Augusta area.

“In some respects, the numbers are just as bad and maybe even a little worse. And it’s more of a mystery in some respects,” Hayslett said. “Particularly because of the presence of the medical college, I guess I’m surprised that there hasn’t been a more beneficial influence in that part of the state.”

But there is a simpler explanation for the difference between Columbia County and its neighbors.

“To a huge degree that’s economics,” Hayslett said. “And you’ll find that Columbia County pattern all over the state” in bedroom communities next to urban areas. And it is not just the income of the county’s residents but the marketplace it provides.

“In Atlanta and in Augusta, we’ve got pretty good health care markets,” Hayslett said. “We’ve got lots of people who are covered through private employers or Medicare or Medicaid or work for the state in the case of actually both of those communities. That supports a lot of doctors and hospitals and other providers. But you get 20, 30, 40 miles outside of Augusta and you really don’t have the conditions necessary to create or sustain a health care market.”

Even those with health insurance in those areas have to travel to use it in the larger markets, he said. The Affordable Care Act, with tax credit subsidies up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, will provide the potential for coverage for tens of thousands in the Augusta area, according to a recent report. But that might not change things, Hayslett said.

“Theoretically at least, that should help. But even the folks who will then have access to it and buy it, they still have the supply problem,” he said. “If they are out in Burke County or Jenkins County or wherever outside Augusta, they still have the problem with a lack of physicians and a lack of providers.”

The difference in conditions means starkly different realities based on where someone lives in Georgia.

“The truth of the matter is I think there are probably four or five Georgias at this point,” Hayslett said. “I think it has really become that much more stratified, and the problems are becoming that much more intractable.”

There was some good news, however, in the hypertension report: In even in the worst performing counties in Georgia the rate of treatment was above the national average, Mokdad said.

“This was a surprise for us,” he said. “The fact that people in the Southeast, where usually traditionally blood pressure is high, are doing much better in treating and following that, controlling blood pressure.

“For us this is an encouraging story. The medical system, the society, is heading in the right direction. Slower but heading in the right direction.”

Staff Writer Sandy Hodson contributed to this report

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soapy_725
44121
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soapy_725 04/11/13 - 06:14 am
0
0
More propoganda for cradle to grave
Unpublished

government ownership of the masses. More fuel in support of Affordable Health Care B.S. We are so inferior that we cannot manage our own lives. 400% of the poverty line will equal more than most working people earn. The Nanny State is our only salvation. Do you not understand? Those that are paying taxes must pay more so that The Nanny State can redistribute the tax revenue via federal grant money to those needs that TNS deems worthy. ARC is mini version of TNS.

seenitB4
97596
Points
seenitB4 04/11/13 - 06:47 am
4
1
Choices in life

Choices--habits & stress....stress is deadly & some live with it daily.

soapy_725
44121
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soapy_725 04/11/13 - 06:50 am
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Its time we consolidated some of these 159
Unpublished

little kingdoms. Taliaferro has more votes cast than there are total citizens in the county. Hancock was once governed by a Pyramid Cult. Talk about your lost communities. Do like the New England states that share their wealth across county lines. Affluent taking care of t he non-fluent. The Nanny State says this will work.

MarinerMan
2107
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MarinerMan 04/11/13 - 07:18 am
0
0
Test
Unpublished

Test

Bwh2q
7
Points
Bwh2q 04/11/13 - 08:04 am
2
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"Bedroom communities" . . . ?

This makes it sound like Columbia County residents simply sit around watching their bank statement balloon and reflecting on how much more blessed they are than their lowlier surrounding counties. It's a nice area with low crime because the residents are hard-working people that understand the value of money and property.

Riverman1
93727
Points
Riverman1 04/11/13 - 08:22 am
4
2
Demographics. There's a

Demographics. There's a reason Columbia County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. You could pour a billion dollars into Richmond County health care and it wouldn't change anything. As the demographics improve the people take better care of themselves.

MTBer
643
Points
MTBer 04/11/13 - 08:39 am
2
1
Beds

You make your bed, you lay in it. We have the choice of eating fast foods, fried foods and processed junk, or we make better choices and eat what we know for a fact to be better for your body. You make the choice of actually getting up and moving, perhaps even (OH NO!)exercising, or parking in the "No Parking" zone so you are closer to the front door. Don't bother owning or even stepping on a scale, or actually watching portions and believing the scale. We don't need more "education". People need to take accountability for their actions.

triscuit
3266
Points
triscuit 04/11/13 - 09:05 am
3
3
not hard to figure

not hard to figure out...geez. Wealthier people can afford to buy healthier food. Price of fresh fruit/veggies/fish is sky high compared to processed crap and cheap cuts of pork/beef. Also have jobs with health insurance or can afford good medical care. Yes, it does certainly go back to the choices people make, but I don't see this as a news story.

Gage Creed
19406
Points
Gage Creed 04/11/13 - 09:52 am
4
1
The Oracle of Olde Town is

The Oracle of Olde Town is not going to like this one little bit! (Snark)

KSL
143859
Points
KSL 04/11/13 - 10:24 am
3
3
The link from the main internet page

States that Columbia County is healthier. It is two links down from one referring to a house fire that destroyed a $400,000 house. Fire started on the second floor, perhaps by a tanning bed!

"Will irononies (n)ever cease?"

ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts
11036
Points
ColdBeerBoiledPeanuts 04/11/13 - 10:28 am
5
0
It's not wealth!

Have any of you ever watched what people are buying with EBT cards these days? Cases ofCrab Legs, Rib eye loins whole! High end groceries, then selling them in the parking lots for pennies on the dollar to get cash for alcohol and cigarettes. The solution would be to limit what can be purchased with EBT to healthier options, less processed foods and no High End items. If we have to pay for it at least make it mandatory that it be healthy!! I've shopped it both ways and the healthy options are a lot less expensive than the preprocessed choices.

KSL
143859
Points
KSL 04/11/13 - 10:28 am
3
2
Better solution. Stop paying!

Better solution. Stop paying! They would lose weight if they had to work.

Red Headed Step Child
4490
Points
Red Headed Step Child 04/11/13 - 12:15 pm
3
0
Change habits

That's what it all boils down to. It's easy to fall into the trap of pre-packaged convenience items, those that are laden with empty calories and preservatives that CAN'T be good for us. Yes, they seem to be cheaper, but in the long run is your health worth it?

I can tell you that while it takes some planning and smart shopping, you can get good, wholesome fresh foods and not have to spend an arm and a leg to do so. It's not impossible to feed a family of 4 a healthy dinner for less than $20 - the same that you'd spend at say, a McDonald's.

Portion control is another way to get healthier. Super-sized portions lead to super sized posteriors!

As for exercise, who needs a gym membership? Walking is free!

Grandpa Jones
1164
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Grandpa Jones 04/11/13 - 12:58 pm
4
0
Health

When I started using a CPAP machine, my blood pressure dropped from 140+/90+ to around 120/70. It wasn't what I was eating or drinking but how I was sleeping that had my blood pressure jacked up.

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