County’s life quality ranks low

While California’s health improved in 2014, Madera County ranked 52 out of 57 state counties in quality of life, social and economic factors, and air pollution, according to annual reports issued by the UnitedHealth and Robert Wood Johnson foundations.

The UnitedHealth’s 25th annual report focused on national and state-level data, while Robert Wood Johnson’s reviewed county-wide statistics. Each used similar factors such, as differing economic and education levels, violent crime, obesity, and air pollution to rank each group.

UnitedHealth’s report placed California at number 17 on the list, with Hawaii as the healthiest state — never lower than sixth since the report’s first issuance in 1990 — and Mississippi as last for the third straight year.

Nationally, UnitedHealth’s report found obesity rose by 7% — from 27.6 to 29.4% of adults — while adults not exercising in the last 30 days increased from 22.9 to 23.5%.

On the positive side, smoking Americans decreased an additional 3% over the year, the report said, in line with a consistent decline throughout the past decade.

In a release, Reed Tuckson, a senior medical adviser to UnitedHealth, praised progress in the national data but noted the report was “a solemn reminder that we have a lot more work ahead of us. It is inevitable that increases in the rates of obesity and physical inactivity will result in more people suffering from significant chronic diseases,” Tuckson said, “that compromise the quality of their lives, adversely affect their families and are unaffordable for the nation.”

In California, UnitedHealth noted The Golden State had lower levels of smoking (12.5% of adults), obesity (24.1), and physical inactivity as compared to the national rates.

As challenges, however, the report placed California dead last in air pollution, far behind Indiana and Pennsylvania as the next smoggiest states, last again in disparity of health based on poor education rates, and 35th in violent crime.

The Robert Wood Johnson report instead focused on counties across each state, saying California’s Marin County was the most healthy followed by Placer and Santa Clara, while Lake was the worst behind Del Norte, Siskiyou, and Kern.

At number 43 of 57 counties was Madera, which did better than 27 other counties on length of life and ranked 40th in health behaviors.

Those behaviors did show a lower rate percentage to county-wide average of excessive drinking (15% to a higher 17), but did worse in smoking (14% to 13), obesity (30% to 23), and alcohol-driving deaths (33% to 32).

The heaviest hitters to Madera’s health were in physical environment and social and economic factors, which ranked 52 of 57 counties, and demonstrated poor education and family health levels as well as higher air pollution and drinking water violations.

The county’s unemployment rate of 13.6% was high against the state’s 10.5, while 20% less Madera County citizens (61% to 81 average) receive any college education, and 35% of their children are in poverty compared to the state’s 24%.

In both reports, areas more impoverished hold consistently higher rates of poorer health, including the southern states of Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, and South Carolina all in the bottom 10 of UnitedHealth’s review.

Tony Pugh, a reporter with the McClatchy Newspapers Washington Bureau, said only Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia, three of the 10 unhealthiest states, have used the Affordable Care Act for Medicaid expansion to help low-income residents who earn as much as 138% of the federal poverty level.

Such trends have remained similar among those states, some of the lowest-ranked in health for many years, Pugh reported.

Locally, many Central Valley counties face poor health conditions, with Kings ranked at 41, San Joaquin 42, Madera 43, Fresno 46, Tulare 47, and Kern 54.

Both reports were issued earlier this month.

They were created and reviewed by health experts, public health scholars, and data from dozens of sources including the American Medical Association, U.S. Department of Health, and the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care.

For further explanation and county health data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program, go to and click on California inside the United States map. For information on UnitedHealth’s report, go to