xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

National study shows improved health in Harford

Harford County is ranked fourth among Maryland counties for health outcomes in a national study released this week, as obesity and smoking rates, among other factors, show improvement. Above, more than a thousand runners took to the streets of Bel Air last June for the annual Town Run.
Harford County is ranked fourth among Maryland counties for health outcomes in a national study released this week, as obesity and smoking rates, among other factors, show improvement. Above, more than a thousand runners took to the streets of Bel Air last June for the annual Town Run.(ERIKA BUTLER AEGIS FILE PHOTO / Baltimore Sun)

The overall health of Harford County's population is improving, according to the latest report from a national study that follows key public health outcomes in the nation's counties.

Harford was ranked fifth in the state in health outcomes, such as obesity, smoking and premature death rates, by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a big leap after two years of being ranked 10th in Maryland.

Advertisement

With an estimated population of just over 250,000, Harford is the seventh largest among the state's 23 counties and Baltimore City.

Harford's rates of smoking and obesity, which have been points of concern for local health officials, are in line with the numbers statewide, according to the foundation, which partners with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute on the annual study, results of which were released Wednesday.

The report shows 28 percent of Harford adults were obese in 2012, the most recent numbers available, the same percentage as statewide. Meanwhile, 15 percent of Harford adults smoked in 2014, while the statewide average for the same time period was 14 percent.

The county "remains stable and continues to be among the best in the state," the Harford County Health Department said in a statement that coincided with the release of the report.

Harford did, however, slip to ninth in Maryland in what the report calls "health factors," which include weighted scores for health behaviors, clinical care, the physical environment and social and economic factors.

For instance, the study cited a poorer physical environment for Harford compared to the rest of the state, including higher percentages of people driving alone to work and those having a "long commute."

The study found Harford's air quality about average for the state – though worse than the nation as a whole.

It also reports "drinking water violations" for the county, but without going into specifics, other than to say they are based on violations of the federal Environmental Protection Agency's regulations, as reported by the states in 2013 and 2014.

Advertisement

Half of Maryland's jurisdictions showed such violations, including Baltimore, Carroll and Cecil counties, according to the study.

Harford County government spokesperson Cindy Mumby said she is not sure what the health outcomes report refers to regarding local water quality. A required annual report the county publishes, known as the water consumer confidence report, showed no violations from any contaminants in 2014, she said.

The county does not have any risk of lead contamination of its water, as there are no lead pipes in its system, Mumby said. Lead contamination in public water systems, such has been found in Flint, Mich., has become a national concern in recent months.

Harford's gap in clinical care availability, when compared to the rest of Maryland, dropped slightly in this year's health study but remains behind state averages.

The county has one primary care physician for every 1,680 residents, same as reported in last year's study, and one mental health provider for every 700 residents, slightly better than the one for every 757 residents reported last year.

Statewide, there is one primary care physician for every 1,120 residents, while nationally the rate is one for every 1,040. Maryland has one mental health provider for every 470 residents, compared to one for every 370 nationally, according to the report.

Advertisement

Harford Health Department spokesperson William Wiseman noted some of the health factors, like the long commutes alone, are harder to change without, for example, investment in mass transit.

"We know that those problems exist," he said, adding public health improvement in areas like smoking also depends on people taking advantage of cessation programs available locally.

"Sometimes people have tremendous access to health resources but don't utilize them," he said.

In the department's statement, Harford Health Officer Susan Kelly cautioned that the rankings do not "provide a totally clear nor comprehensive conclusion about health status in Harford or elsewhere," as public health takes many years to shift and the data used in the health study is often several years old.

"Although the information contained in these annual reports is useful for targeting issues and motivating strategic planning, there are other influences that affect those rankings," Kelly said. "Much depends on the health decisions and behaviors of Harford County residents."

"Looking only at our rates and ranking versus other Maryland counties, it appears that Harford is relatively healthy by comparison," she said. "However, the data also points to areas where more in-depth analysis is helpful. We recognize there are disparities relative to race and ethnicity and other challenging issues left with which to deal."

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement