Summit County … cough, cough … is getting … cough, cough … more unhealthy — or at least more unhealthy as compared to the rest of Ohio.

Summit fell seven spots in this year's County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report released Tuesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Summit ranked 53rd out of Ohio's 88 counties. It is Summit's worst-ever overall ranking in the report.

"I'd like us to be No. 1 for everything, the best, but I don't know that we're ever going to see that happen," Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said.

She said she wasn't disappointed or surprised by the report, as it confirms the county's health strengths and weaknesses.

The annual study ranks counties nationwide using a variety of data, including tobacco use, exercise, access to medical care, educational levels, premature death, obesity, air quality and housing conditions. Counties use the results to spot positive and negative trends and identify areas for improvement.

Delaware, Putnam, Geauga, Medina and Holmes were the top five healthiest counties in Ohio, in that order. The bottom five were all in southern Ohio: Scioto, Meigs, Gallia, Pike and Adams.

Other Akron-area counties and their statewide rankings were: Portage (28th), Stark (49th) and Wayne (18th).

Researchers this year emphasized that having an affordable home is tied to healthy living. The report noted that 13 percent of Ohio households spend more than half of their income on housing costs, compared to 23 percent of households headed by black residents.

"It's unacceptable that so many individuals and families face barriers to health because of what they have to spend on housing," foundation President and CEO Richard Besser said in a prepared statement. "This leaves them with fewer dollars to keep their families healthy."

Summit County ranked last in Ohio when it comes to "Physical Environment," which covers severe housing problems, air pollution, drinking water violations, driving alone to work and long commutes alone. Skoda wasn't sure why the county's air quality and drinking water were rated so poorly.

The county fell 12 spots to 56th for premature deaths. Health officials pointed to a rash of drug overdose deaths as the main reason for the drop.

Summit also fared poorly for alcohol-impaired driving deaths and sexually transmitted diseases, with numbers worse than the state average and well behind the top performing counties in the nation. For example, 44 percent of driving deaths involved alcohol compared to 33 percent statewide.

"That is extremely concerning," Skoda said.

The county's "Quality of Life" ranking remained the same at 52nd.

"I don't think that these [rankings] tell the whole story," Skoda said.

There were some bright spots for Summit. The county's "Health Factors" ranking improved, rising three spots to 41st. The county also jumped 14 spots to 29th for "Health Behaviors" such as adult smoking, adult obesity and teen births.

It also moved up three spots to 47th for "Social & Economic Factors" that included everything from education to violent crime to children in poverty.

Summit ranked 15th for access to medical care, and county residents have well above average access to exercise opportunities, the report says.

"I've always told people you have to realize where you live is a health care mecca," Skoda said. "You have world-class care at your fingertips."

Despite the county's overall ranking, it fared well when compared to other large urban counties in the state. It bested Cuyahoga (62nd), Hamilton (61st), Lucas (69th), Mahoning (67th) and Montgomery (81st). Franklin ranked 48th.

For more details and to check out all the rankings, go to www.countyhealthrankings.org.

 

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.