Howard County residents are the second healthiest in the state, according to a new report out Wednesday.
Howard trails only Montgomery County in the state ranking, released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The report takes into account factors that include premature death rates; health behaviors such as smoking and obesity; clinical care; socioeconomic factors, including educational achievement and unemployment rate; and indicators of the health of the county’s environment, such as air pollution.
"We are delighted to be one of the healthiest counties in Maryland, and in the nation,” County Executive Allan H. Kittleman said in a statement.
Kittleman said Howard “has an enviable quality of life, and much of it is because we have invested in critical areas to improve our parks, promote cleaner air, encourage physical activity, and support wellness programs.”
That sentiment was largely shared by the Columbia-based Horizon Foundation, a public health nonprofit, though President and CEO Nikki Highsmith Vernick noted that there’s room to improve.
“Being ranked the second-healthiest county in Maryland is a testament to our community’s shared commitment to promoting health and wellness,” Vernick said. “But we know we can do better, by improving our health outcomes — in particular, our adult obesity rates, which lag behind Montgomery County’s by 4 percentage points.
“The Horizon Foundation is committed to reducing the rates of childhood and adult obesity in Howard County, and as this ranking indicates, there is still much work to be done.”
In December, foundation leaders said they were disappointed that Kittleman overturned a ban on the sale of sugary drinks and high-calorie snacks on county property and at events sponsored by the county. The county executive said he felt the ban overstepped an “appropriate role” for government.
In addition to its overall rankings, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report breaks its analysis of jurisdictions into two categories: Health Outcomes, which measure the current health of the county, and Health Factors, the behaviors and environmental conditions that might impact health in the future.
Howard ranked first in the state in Health Factors and second in Health Outcomes. The county earned the same placement in both categories last year.
In 2013, the county took the top spot in both rankings.
The purpose of the rankings, according to the accompanying report, is a “call to action” for counties to look at their health policies and outcomes, as well as a benchmark by which they can measure their efforts.
Frederick, Carroll and St. Mary’s counties rounded out the top five healthiest in the state, with Carroll moving up one spot from its fifth-place ranking last year.
Baltimore City ranked last on the list.
The complete report can be found at countyhealthrankings.org.