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Carroll County ranks fifth among Maryland jurisdictions for health outcomes

Carroll County ranks fifth out of 24 jurisdictions in the state in terms of overall health outcomes for residents, according to a national health report released Wednesday.

However, when compared to top-performing jurisdictions across the U.S., the county lags slightly behind on some health measures.

The county is right on par with other jurisdictions in Maryland in terms of having residents who report having poor or fair health - at 13 percent. The figure is slightly higher than top-performing jurisdictions, where only 10 percent of residents, or less, report having poor or fair health, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

This year marks the fifth year that the report has been released by the institute and foundation. The data come from varying time frames and numerous sources, including the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Carroll saw 5,765 premature deaths from 2008 to 2010, higher than the top U.S. jurisdictions but less than the state average of 6,865.

The report also notes that an estimated 18 percent of Carroll adults smoke, 28 percent are obese and 20 percent engage in excessive alcohol consumption. Each of the these measures is slightly higher than the top-performing jurisdictions across the country.

In Maryland, Carroll is higher than the average jurisdiction for smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, but ranks the same as the rest of the state for obesity.

The county is on par with the top-ranking jurisdictions in terms of the adults who perform no physical activity in their leisure time - at 21 percent. The figure is lower than the state measure of 24 percent.

Carroll County public health officials said the report was encouraging, and noted they are taking steps to improve the overall health of residents.

"I guess a perfectionist could say we could always do better," said Larry Leitch, the health officer for the Carroll County Health Department. "Being fifth out [of] 24, I am pretty happy with it."

Leitch said there is a theory that the higher drinking and smoking rates in Carroll are due to the independent nature of Carroll County farmers, who may smoke and drink excessively despite health warnings.

"They are very independent," Leitch said. "If they want to do something, they are going to do it."

Dorothy Fox, executive director and CEO of the Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County, said she is not surprised by the number of smokers or the number of adults who are obese. Each of those measures have been labeled priorities of the partnership, which has launched initiatives to combat smoking and obesity, she said.

For instance, Fox said the partnership has worked to increase the number of Carroll County employers that have a smoke-free campus. She also noted the county's "Walk Carroll" program will kickstart April 5 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Carroll County Farm Museum; the event will feature guided walks and physical activity sessions, and information on staying active.

Fox said Carroll's overall health outcomes ranking should be viewed as a positive to residents.

"I am very happy to see that," Fox said.

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