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New Rankings Show Least and Most Obese Counties in South Carolina

healthrankings_500Beaufort County is the least obese county in the state, a position it has held for the past seven years, according to the latest County Health Rankings report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The most obese county is Lee County. The Rankings are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

“Obesity is a major health concern that impacts millions of South Carolinians and their families,” said Beth Franco, executive director of Eat Smart Move More (ESMM) South Carolina. “Fortunately, communities are doing some great work to change that.”

Local coalitions across the state are partnering with government officials, hospital systems and education leaders to make their communities healthier by making changes like improving safety at parks, marking walking trails, and accepting SNAP benefits at farmers markets, said Franco.

  • In Beaufort County, ESMM Lowcountry has helped make the SC Medical Association’s Childhood Obesity Toolkit available to area physicians. Through the toolkit, physicians counsel children who are overweight or obese on healthy eating and active living. If a child is referred to LifeFit Wellness Center, they get unlimited access to a registered dietician, and children ages 14 with a parent/guardian can use the gym for free. Parents get a discounted rate for three months.
  • ESMM Kershaw County is participating in the Let’s Go! South Carolina Initiative, a three-year grant program focusing on healthy eating and active living through multiple strategies – school, community, youth and faith. As part of this initiative, a Healthy Young People Empowerment Project team is working with Kershaw County Parks and Recreation to provide healthy food options at concession stands.
  • Partners for Active Living and many other collaborators in Spartanburg are increasing access to healthy foods by expanding the Hub City Farmers Market into food desert areas of the city and through a mobile market. Leaders are also making improvements to parks and developing new trails in an already strong trails system.
  • The City of Florence and other local partners are creating a walkable downtown by making street and sidewalk improvements. Through these upgrades, the City is connecting surrounding neighborhoods to a food overlay district that will help alleviate food deserts in the area.
  • School leaders in Lee County, the most obese county in the state, implemented the SC Farm to School program, which provides students with fresh, local fruits and vegetables, as well as nutrition education in the classroom. Child development centers follow the ABC Grow Healthy Nutrition and Physical Activity Standards, which focus on nutrition and physical education, and making meals healthier.

While a county’s overall ranking provides a helpful snapshot, it is important to dig deeper to better understand what factors might be helping or hurting a county’s rank.

“Just because a county ranks low in the state doesn’t mean there aren’t strong partnerships and programs working to improve health,” Franco said. “Likewise, even the counties that rank high in the state have their own set of challenges and barriers.”

Franco recommends that communities use their county rank as a starting point to generate conversation and determine possible areas to seek improvements.

This year, the Rankings took a closer look at the differences in health between urban, rural, suburban, and smaller metro counties and found that rural counties have higher rate of obesity, while large urban counties have lower obesity rates.

The Rankings are an easy-to-use snapshot comparing the health of nearly every county in the nation. The local-level data not only allows each state to see how its counties compare on obesity, but also lack of physical activity, education, jobs and more than 30 other factors that influence health. Communities can use the data to help improve their healthy eating and active living efforts.
To find out what communities across the state are doing to prevent obesity, visit www.esmmsc.org. To learn more about County Health Rankings, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.