Hays County ranked fifth-healthiest in Texas

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A recent study ranked Hays County as one of the healthiest in the state of Texas.

Officials with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute conducted the 2015 study. Hays County was ranked fifth in the state according to health outcomes. The county is ranked 17th in health factors.

Health outcomes are “untraditional” elements such as premature death, poor physical health days, poor mental health days and low birth weight, said Anne Roubal, research associate with the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program in Wisconsin.

Health factors are “traditional” elements such as health behaviors, social and economic factors, clinical care and physical environment, Roubal said.

Health behaviors include teen births, sexually transmitted infections and access to exercise opportunities. According to the study, 27 percent of adults living in Hays County are obese and 14 percent are smokers.

Clinical care pertains to the availability of resources including dentists, diabetic monitoring, mammography screening and primary care physicians. According to the study, 22 percent of people of Hays County were found to be uninsured, a relatively high amount.

Social and economic factors include high school graduation, child poverty, unemployment and violent crimes. According to the study, 5.2 percent of citizens in Hays County are unemployed, which is below the state average.

Hays County ranks well in terms of health, but “there is always room for improvement,” Roubal said.

“Exercise is key to health,” Roubal said. “Encouraging exercise and increasing access to workout facilities, such as gyms and parks, can help people be healthier.”

Roubal said the proximity of gyms and parks to community members and the hours of operation have an impact on the amount of people who are willing and able to exercise.

Average income plays a role in health as well, she said.

“Income does influence the health of a community because the employed are more likely to have health insurance,” Roubal said.

Elizabeth Pollock, research associate with the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program, said health is about more than medical care.

“The measures are all from different sources,” Pollock said. “Some are from surveys, and some are calculated by ourselves. There are a variety of different sources.”

Pollock said having a major university in an area impacts the overall health of a county as measured by reports.

A university increases the number of educated people in an area, which is one of the factors measured in health, Pollock said.

“A lot of counties are using these (health) rankings from our reports to better understand the health of their county and to take measures toward increasing the health,” Pollock said.

County officials can increase overall health by investing in education, prioritizing job training and removing barriers for the impoverished and under-privileged, Pollock said.

Steve Furney, health and human performance professor at Texas State, said most people think of health in a physical context. However, the term encompasses mental, emotional, social, cultural and occupational health.

Texas State has had an impact on the health of Hays County, because it supplies a large youth population.

“Youth is a big factor as far as health,” Furney said. “Young people tend to be healthier than older people.”

The university provides a positive influence on health, he said.

“The bus system reduces and lowers carbon emissions, and the university places a concern over the environment, such as the quality of the river,” Furney said.

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