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Why South Florida Is Pretty Healthy and the Panhandle Is Going to Drop Dead

The University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute released its third-annual county health rankings earlier this week, offering a huge pile of statistics on more than 3,000 U.S. counties that reveal, among other things, that fewer car crashes happen in the Northeast and teen pregnancy is highest in the South.

But the data is broken down by county, so there's gobs of information about who's doing what in Florida -- and indications point to the lower end of the state being way better off than those up north. Here are five of the most interesting contrasts:

1. People die younger in northern Florida.
The data is based on some serious number wizardry involving age-adjusted population numbers and three-year averages of something or other, but the system is essentially this: Each county is given a score based on "potential life years lost." The study assumes the average person lives to be 75 years old, and every person who dies before that age adds years to his or her county's years lost. If a guy in Miami dies at age 70, for example, Miami-Dade County gets five potential life years lost added to its tally. If he dies at 25, Miami-Dade gets 50 years added to its tally.

All in all, South Florida did well: For every 100,000 people in Broward County, for example, about 7,000 potential life years were left on the table -- seventh-best in the state.

Miami-Dade was slightly better, at 6,641 potential life years, and Palm Beach County was slightly worse, at 7,508.

Compare that to Dixie County, which loses around 12,900 every year. The worst by far is Union County, which sounds like a strange, small place in northern Florida that has 1.83 men for every woman. Its rate is 22,308 years lost per 100,000 people.

2. People smoke way more cigarettes up there too.
Of Florida's 67 counties, 19 report that more than a quarter of their adults are smokers. All of them are north of Orange County, and three -- Franklin, Taylor, and Baker counties -- have rates of more than 30 percent.

That's twice as high as Broward's 15 percent; Miami-Dade is at 14 percent, and Palm Beach is at 16.

3. More than 25 percent of Floridians are obese, but more of them live up north.
It's strange to see it as good news that "only" one in four Broward residents are classified as obese, but we're ranked seventh-best in the state for "health behaviors," and we look like supermodels compared to Liberty County's 36 percent obesity rate and Hamilton County's 38 percent.

The skinniest county? Southwest Florida's Monroe County, where only one in five residents is fat to the point of being unhealthy. The contrast is probably at least partially due to the fact that...

4. (Parts of) northern Florida are overrun by fast-food joints.
Percentage of Broward County restaurants that are classified as "fast food": 47 percent.
Palm Beach County: 41 percent.
Dixie County: 83 percent.

Broward's straight numbers are much higher (we've got a population of more than 1.7 million; Dixie County's is less than 15,000), but the map does make one thing clear: If you're at a restaurant in northern Florida, the odds are better than here that you're somewhere that the burgers come with little wax-paper wrappers.

5. Teenagers are having kids all over the damned place.
If these numbers are correct, somebody needs to get Trojan on the phone to arrange some kind of airdrop. Almost one in every ten teenaged girls in Hardee County has had a child, according to the statistics. Either that or one 16-year-old has had, like, 4,000 kids on her own. You can't really tell from the numbers, but, according to the County Health Rankings website, it's not a good thing:
Teen pregnancy is associated with poor prenatal care and pre-term delivery. Pregnant teens are more likely than older women to receive late or no prenatal care, have gestational hypertension and anemia, and achieve poor maternal weight gain. They are also more likely to have a pre-term delivery and low birth weight, increasing the risk of child developmental delay, illness, and mortality.
Oh dear. Hendry, Okeechobee, and DeSoto counties in south(ish) Florida didn't do so hot either, but the rest of the lowest-ranking counties were up north, with county-level rates as high as 86 births for every 1,000 teen girls. Broward's rate is down at 31 births per 1,000 teens, and Palm Beach's is 38.

To be clear: These numbers are all proportional by county, which means smaller counties with scarier numbers aren't necessarily killing more people. Take smoking, for example -- Broward County's 15 percent rate is far lower than many other counties, but the raw number -- about 265,000 smokers -- is more than quadruple the total population of Franklin, Taylor, and Baker counties. One conclusion that can be drawn: Even if there are fewer people in some counties up there, this survey says they're way worse off.

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Rich Abdill

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