MANATEE -- Manatee is the 24th-healthiest county in Florida, according to an organization that used 30 criteria such as having health insurance, education, housing, jobs, smoking, premature death, availability of healthy food and exercise opportunities to rate all 67 counties.
St. Johns ranked healthiest in Florida, and Sarasota came in third, according to the seventh annual County Health Rankings produced in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
According to the 2016 rankings released Wednesday, the five healthiest counties in Florida, starting with most healthy, were St. Johns, Collier, Sarasota, Martin and Seminole. The five counties in the poorest health, starting with least healthy, are Gadsden, Union, Putnam, Madison and Hamilton.
The rankings are available at countyhealthrankings.org.
Dr. Jennifer Bencie, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Manatee, said her agency will work in collaboration with local governments, nonprofit organizations, health care facilities, business groups, schools, faith-based organizations and many other stakeholders to improve health across Manatee County.
"We will work with our community partners and stakeholders to engage our residents of all ages to adopt healthier lifestyles," Bencie said.
Bencie said Manatee County has seen several improved health factors as compared to both 2012 and 2015, such as decreasing adult smoking rates, decreasing physical inactivity rates of adults aged 20 and over and decreasing rates of adults reporting fair or poor health.
While Manatee ranked 24th in the health outcomes ranking, Manatee scored 15th in health factors, which is where the county could be in the future, said Ericka Burroughs-Girardi, a community coach with County Rankings and Roadmaps.
"We assign each county two rankings, one is the health outcomes and the other is health
factors," Burroughs-Girardi said. "The health outcome is a snapshot of today's health. The health factor is a picture of how healthy a county could be in the future based on factors that influence health. So the 15th place means that Manatee is moving in the right direction."
"I think the take-home message for Manatee is that the rankings are a call to action, and the goal is to get community partners to come together to reinforce what is going well and work on areas to pay attention to," Burroughs-Girardi added.
Premature death, injury deaths and violent crime were revealing categories for Manatee.
A total of 7,400 Manatee residents out of 100,000 die before they reach age 75, the ranking revealed. That statistic means Manatee ranked 30th out of 67 counties in life span.
The Florida average is 6,800 out of 100,000 die prematurely. The top counties in America came in at 5,200 deaths per 100,000 before age 75.
Seventy-seven out of every 100,000 Manatee residents die from injury, well above the state average of 68 and national best of 51, according to the rankings. A total of 629 of 100,000 Manatee residents have been the victim of violent crime, far above the state average of 514.
A total of 25 percent of Manatee's population is uninsured, slightly above the Florida average of 24 percent but far above the national best of 11 percent.
Manatee, however, was better than the Florida average and out-ranked the top U.S. counties in access to exercise opportunities and adults avoiding becoming overweight.
A total of 94 percent of Manatee's population reported that they have access to exercise, above the Florida average of 92 percent.
Twenty-four percent of Manatee adults were judged to be obese while the Florida average was 25 percent. The top U.S. counties for adult obesity were at 25 percent, according to the rankings.
But while Manatee seems fit, the county does have its work cut out for it in other areas, including smoking, excessive drinking, alcohol-impaired deaths and teen births.
Sixteen percent of Manatee's population smokes, exactly matching Florida's average but higher than the 14 percent of the most smoke-free U.S. counties.
Seventeen percent of Manatee's population suffers from excessive drinking, which is less than the Florida average of 18 percent but well ahead of the top U.S. counties which is 12 percent.
Thirty-three percent of Manatee's driving deaths are due to alcohol, well above the 29 percent state average and 14 percent national best, according to the rankings.
Partnerships are a critical component of Manatee County's Community Health Improvement Plan, said Joseph Hwang, associate administrator for Manatee Memorial Hospital and chair of the Wellness and Prevention Committee of the Manatee Healthcare Alliance.
"Through these partnerships, we will work to collaborate on creative solutions, bridge the continuum of care, and encourage policy change to drive improvements in the community," Hwang said. "The ultimate goal is to improve the health of Manatee County's residents and we hope that this plan will encourage other community members and organizations to join subcommittees and lend support."
Manatee's teen birth rate is 47 per 1,000 teens, far more than the state average of 34 per 1,000 teens and the national lowest of 19 per 1,000 teens, according to the rankings.
"The teen birth rate in Manatee is relatively high," Burroughs-Girardi said.
The study focused on one sexually transmitted infection, chlamydia, across all 67 counties and found that Manatee had 411.5 cases out of 100,000 people, lower than the Florida average of 415.1 but above the top U.S. counties which were at 134.1.
Manatee's number of primary care physicians was 1,770, well above the Florida average of 1,390 and the national best of 1,040.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.