Hawaii County worst in state when it comes to health, survey finds

HILO — Hawaii County is at the bottom of the pack when it comes to health, according to a new national survey.

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HILO — Hawaii County is at the bottom of the pack when it comes to health, according to a new national survey.

The seventh annual County Health Rankings, produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and released this week, places the county fourth and last in the state in nearly every category measured.

The survey combines information from a variety of data sources, including the United States Census Bureau, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control. It measures both health outcomes such as length of life and quality of life, and health behaviors such as smoking and physical activity.

Honolulu County ranked first overall with Kauai County and Maui County, respectively, second and third.

Hawaii Island has a slightly higher rate of adult obesity at 24 percent than the rest of the state, according to the data. Nearly one-fifth of adults smoke. Access to healthy foods was limited compared with that in the rest of Hawaii.

The study also found that island residents had less access to exercise opportunities, although that data point measured distance to a recreational facility or park and did not take into account other outdoor activites.

Although the county was barely above the statewide percentages for excessive drinking, alcohol impairment was a factor in 47 percent of all driving deaths, as compared to 33 percent statewide.

Hawaii County was also below the statewide levels for sexually-transmitted diseseases and HIV prevalence, but had a relatively high teen birth rate (42 births per 1,000 in the 15-19 female population group).

The rankings also found that 11 percent of people in Hawaii County are uninsured, as compared to 8 percent statewide.

Marilyn Brown, sociology department chair at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, cited a lack of services as one reason the county lags behind.

“In terms of health, it’s clear we don’t have as many health care providers as we need,” she said.

In February, the annual Hawaii Physician Workforce Assessment Project found that Hawaii County had a physician specialist shortage of more than 52 percent. In certain specialties, such as cardiology, gastroenterology, neurology and rheumatology, there are no physicians working on the Big Island.

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The county’s bright spot in the rankings came in the physical environment category, where it was second in the state. That category took into account variables such air pollution, drinking water, and commute times.

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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