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Marin Still Healthiest County in State, but Binge Drinking Continues

New report gives Marin County No. 1 spot for third year in a row despite a curious trend that has county health officers concerned.

Marin County remains the healthiest county in all of California, but residents continue to celebrate that healthy lifestyle by tipping a few back.

And then a few more.

Those are the findings from a survey conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on the state of health nationwide. The report, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps in its 2012 report released this week. 

According to the report, Marin County is the healthiest county of the 56 ranked counties in California, the third straight year Marin has garnered that honor.  

But that designation comes with a twist.

Also for the third year in a row, the percentage of Marin residents who said they'd done some binge drinking within the past 30 days — that is, consumed more than five drinks on a single occasion if you're a man, or four for a woman — exceeded both the state and national responses. According to the report, 24 percent of Marin residents surveyed said they'd engaged in binge drinking in the past 30 days, while 17 percent said so in the state and 8 percent nationwide.

As Larry Meredith, director of the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, told the Marin Independent Journal:

"The binge drinking continues to be an issue. We know it's consistent across all age groups," he said. "It's clearly on everybody's radar."

The survey used a number of metrics to determine the level of overall health in each county, including the rate of low-birth weight infants and the rate of people dying before age 75. It also looked at factors like high school graduation rates, violent crime rates, liquor store density, smoking and obesity, among others.

See the rest of the top 10 below and click the map to the right to see the color-coded state with complete county rankings.

1. Marin
2. Santa Clara
3. San Benito
4. Placer
5. San Mateo
6. Orange
7. Yolo
8. Nevada
9. El Dorado
10. Santa Cruz

See the complete breakdown of the health of Yolo County compared the state average and national benchmark below. The national benchmark is the desired national rate for each category. Less than 10 percent of counties nationwide meet the national benchmark.

Explanations for unclear categories can be found below the chart. 

Category Marin County National Benchmark California Average Premature Death 3,846 5,466 5,922 Poor or Fair Health 8%
10% 19% Poor Physical Health Days 3.4 2.6 3.7 Poor Mental Health Days 2.3 2.3 3.6 Low Birthweight 6.4% 6% 6.7% Adult Smoking 9% 14% 14% Adult Obesity 15% 25% 24% Physical Inactivity 13% 21% 18% Excessive Drinking 24%
8% 17% Motor Vehicle Crash Death Rate 6 12 12 Sexually Transmitted Infections 218 84 399 Teen Birth Rate 13 22 40 Uninsured 12% 11% 20% Primary Care Physicians 518:1 631:1 847:1 Preventable Hospital Stays 32 49 52 Diabetic Screening 79% 89% 79% Mammography Screening 71% 74% 63% High School Graduation 90% N/A 74% Some College 73% 68% 60% Unemployment 8.3% 5.4% 12.4% Children in Poverty 11% 13% 22% Inadequate Social Support 17% 14% 25% Children in Single-Parent Households 24% 20% 30% Violent Crime Rate 233 73 500 Air Pollution-Particulate Matter Days 6 0 16 Air Pollution-Ozone Days 0 0 51 Access to Recreational Facilities 24 16 9 Limited Access to Healthy Foods 4% 0% 5% Fast Food Restaurants 36% 25% 49%

Category Explanations:

  • Premature Death: Years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 population
  • Poor Physical/Mental Health Days: Average per 30 days
  • Physical Inactivity: Percent of adults reporting no physical activity
  • Motor Vehicle Crash Death Rate: Deaths per 100,000 population
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections: Chlamydia rate per 100,000 population
  • Teen Birth Rate: Per 1,000 teen girls
  • Violent Crime Rate: Per 100,000 population
  • Air Pollution Days: Annual number of unhealthy air days
  • Access to Recreational Facilities: Facilities per 100,000 people
  • Limited Access to Healthy Foods: Population percent who are low income and do not live near a grocery store

Why do you think Marin ranks so high in both health and binge drinking?

Karen Dionne April 05, 2012 at 02:31 PM
I suppose it's a reward for being so good - they feel it's their right to have at least one vice - my husband falls right into this category. He rides his bike twelve miles round trip to work five days a week, works out at the gym six days a week and is also a vegetarian. Then binge drinks about two times a month. I'm not a fan of his when he's had too many - he becomes annoying, plus he sleeps a lot the next day.
Brant April 05, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Although many of the items surveyed appear to directly measure health, others measure what someone thinks affects health - auto fatalities, violent crime, etc. One should be careful about believing that we Marinites are as healthy as claimed.

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