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Hall is healthy, but theres work to be done
Fayette County ranked as healthiest in state for 2nd year in a row
Annette Hamilton participates in a gentle movements aquatic class Wednesday at the Frances Meadows Aquatic and Community Center in Gainesville. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Access to recreational facilities

This measure represents the number of recreational facilities per 100,000 population in a given county.
Hall County: 5
Georgia: 9
National benchmark: 17

Access to healthy foods

Access to healthy foods is measured as the percent of ZIP codes in a county with a healthy food outlet, defined as a grocery store or produce stand or farmers market.
Hall County: 80%
Georgia: 65%
National benchmark: 92%

High school graduation

High school graduation is reported as the percent of a county's
ninth-grade cohort in public schools that graduates from high school in four years.
Hall: 60%
State: 64%
National benchmark: 92%

Adult Obesity

The adult obesity measure represents the percent of the adult population (age 20 and older) that has a body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2.
Hall County: 27%
Georgia: 28%
National Benchmark: 25%

Uninsured Adults

The uninsured adults measure represents the estimated percent of the adult population under age 65 that has no health insurance coverage.
Hall County: 29%
Georgia: 22%
National Benchmark: 13%

Children in poverty

Children in poverty is the percent of children younger than age 18 living below the Federal Poverty Line.
Hall County: 20%
Georgia: 20%
National Benchmark: 11%

Hall County can boast a No. 10 ranking among Georgia counties in a recent health study, but that high perch should be kept in perspective, said Dr. David N. Westfall, the state's district public health director.

"We need to realize that Georgia consistently ranks in the bottom of states across the country," he said. "(A high ranking) doesn't mean we can sit back and pat ourselves on the back and not worry."

Overall, Metro Atlanta, North Georgia and coastal counties are among the state's healthiest, while the more rural southern part of the state is generally less healthy, according to a recently released report.

The second annual County Health Rankings by the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation assesses wellness in nearly all of the nation's 3,000-plus counties.

It found for 2011 that Fayette County, just south of Atlanta, was the healthiest county in Georgia for the second year in a row. The least healthy county was Calhoun County in southwest Georgia, which fell down one spot from second-to-last in 2010.

Carol Burrell, Northeast Georgia Medical Center's interim CEO, said she believes Hall's ranking "is a testament to the many excellent health care organizations in Hall."

"We are lucky to live in a community where there are a number of organizations and community groups who want to improve the health of our community," she said.

Westfall, who heads District 2 Public Health at 1280 Athens St., said he believes the most important thing about the rankings is "they really show us that there are a lot of interrelated factors ... that impact the community.

"A lot of times, people think of the health status as related just to, say, the hospital and doctor's offices - they're thinking more of the health care delivery.

"But the health status is tied closely to things like the rate of educational attainment, the high school graduation rates ... and Hall County is worse than the Georgia and U.S averages."

The rankings ultimately "point us in directions where we might try to want to focus as a community to improve things, such as access to healthy food, smoke-free air, safe places to exercise, the teen pregnancy rate, the percentage of people living in poverty," Westfall said.

Burrell said, "Data like this helps us to see how we're doing in certain areas and how to prioritize our efforts."

She said the hospital used information from last year's report to apply for Jackson Healthcare's Hospital Charitable Service Awards, an endeavor that resulted in a $10,000 grant to benefit Good News Clinics and Health Access Initiative.

"One area we are currently collaborating on is the issue of obesity rates for children, who in turn will one day affect the number related to adult obesity," Burrell said.

The Hall County Board of Education has teamed up with UnitedHealth Group, a national health care company, on such an initiative.

Also, the school board has named Friendship Elementary School at 4450 Friendship Road in South Hall an official wellness school of choice, meaning that students from outside the Friendship attendance zone can attend the school and take part in its new emphasis.

Friendship kicked off its health program in January.

"We have broken our day into thirds," principal Berry Walton said earlier this week. "We have activities in the morning, during the day and after school. ... Our goal is for our kids to be moving 60 minutes a day, from the time they get up to the time they go to bed."

Young people aren't the only ones who should be mindful of health and fitness.

Melanie Schneider, 63, of Gainesville, was among a group of older adults participating Wednesday in a gentle movements aquatic class Wednesday at the Frances Meadows Aquatic and Community Center in Gainesville.

"I'm obese, have high blood pressure, but I started (classes) for my health," she said. "Don't wait till 63 (to become healthy), because if we had started in our 40s and kept our joints limber like they're supposed to be, then we wouldn't be having a lot of problems that we do have."

Julie Butler, spokeswoman for Gainesville Parks & Recreation Department, said, "An abundance of accessible and affordable opportunities to be well and stay healthy is a primary focus for us.

"Having a variety of parks and facilities and recreation programs that all ages and backgrounds can utilize is an important part of a community's health," she said.

"That is why we do everything we can to provide what our citizens want in terms of programs and amenities, whether it is adult fitness or youth sports or playgrounds that attract families."

Associated Press contributed to this report.