Manatee County ranks at 21 overall in this year’s published County Health Rankings, falling far behind neighboring Sarasota County.
Sarasota County came in at No. 3 on the list of healthiest counties in the state, according to rankings released Wednesday by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute research groups.
Though the immediate reasons for the ranking weren’t explained, Sarasota had a lower premature death rate and a lower percentage of people in poor or fair health.
Manatee was ranked 31st in the state for length of life and 14th for quality of life. Sarasota ranked 14th and second in the respective categories.
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The top five counties overall are St. John’s, Collier, Sarasota, Seminole and Martin, while the least healthiest are — starting with the least healthy county — Union, Gadsen, Madison, Putnam and Hamilton.
The 2017 study focuses on premature death in Florida and in other states across the country, or the years of potential life lost before age 75. Every death that occurs before 75 years old contributes to the number of years of potential life lost, according to the study.
For Manatee County, there are 7,500 years of potential life lost per 100,000. That’s above the Florida average of 6,700.
However, the study shows the county is making improvements in this measurement, down from the 8,000s in the early 2000s.
Manatee County is above the national and state averages for premature deaths, continuing a trend from the past several years, according to the health rankings data. The rankings also show adulthood obesity and sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in Manatee County.
The study concluded that across the country, more young Americans are dying prematurely, mostly due to drug overdose.
In recent years premature death has increased the most among those ages 15 to 44 and is heavily influenced, the study finds, by drug overdoses and injury deaths.
Manatee County is no stranger to drug overdose deaths either. In 2015, it had the highest number of deaths per capita among Florida’s 67 counties in which the medical examiner found a presence of heroin, fentanyl, morphine or cocaine.
However, the leading cause of death the study found for Manatee County is cancer, accounting for 88.3 per 100,000 deaths, followed by heart disease and accidents.