Report: Keys have a higher problem-drinking rate than any other Florida county



By some measures, Florida Keys residents emerge as the state’s healthiest people. But other statistics – primarily rates of adult smoking and alcohol consumption – drop Monroe County residents to the wrong end of the Florida health spectrum.

Those are among findings in the 2014 “County Health Rankings” report, a nationwide project released March 26 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute.

“In some areas, Monroe County does well. In others, we’re pretty much in the middle of the pack,” said Christopher Tittel, information officer for the Monroe County Health Department. “In some areas, we have room to improve.”

The “County Health Rankings” report uses available information from state health departments to rank every U.S. county on 29 factors on a state-by-state basis.

Monroe County’s obesity rate among adults is 19 percent – the lowest percentage in Florida. None of Florida’s other 66 counties had an obesity rate (based on body-mass index scores) lower than 20 percent.

The state obesity average is 26 percent, with 19 counties reporting more than a third of their adult population qualifies as obese.

In the Keys, virtually all residents have “access to exercise opportunities,” according to the report. A state-best 82 percent of Monroe’s population says it regularly takes part in some physical activity.

However, Monroe County also ranks first statewide on a less-admirable scale, the 28 percent rate of “excessive drinking.”

That is defined as “binge drinking” (four to five alcoholic drinks in a single setting at least once in a 30-day period), or “heavy drinking” (one or two drinks nearly every day).

No Florida county reported a higher percentage of excessive drinking; the statewide average is 16 percent. The Keys’ rate increased from 25 percent in 2013.

In the Keys, 37 percent of vehicle-accident deaths are linked to alcohol. The state average is 29 percent.

The percentage of adults who smoke tobacco in the Keys remained unchanged from last year at 22 percent of the population.

With other Florida counties generally reporting lower rates of adult smokers, Monroe’s rank dropped nine spots to the No. 45 position into the bottom third statewide. The current Florida average is 18 percent of the population.

Vices are easy to satisfy in the Keys, notes the Monroe County Community Health Almanac, published by the county Health Department last year. The Keys had 660 active alcohol licenses in 2013 – about three times the number of licenses found in counties of similar population. The same is true of Monroe County’s 395 tobacco licenses.

The “County Health Rankings” report, said a Woods Foundation summary, “continues to show us that where we live matters to our health…. The least-healthy counties have twice the death rates and twice as many children living in poverty and teen births as the nation’s healthiest counties.”

Monroe County ranks second in Florida in the general “quality of life” assessment, which looks at the residents’ view of their own health, the rate of deaths below age 75, and underweight newborns.

Only 10 percent of Keys residents describe their health as poor or fair, compared to a state average of 16 percent.

Monroe County in 2013 was ranked first in Florida in the Physical Environment category, largely due to very low air pollution and uncontaminated drinking water.

This year, the Johnson Foundation added a new Physical Environment ranking called “severe housing problems,” which assess housing costs compared to income and overcrowding.

That likely caused Monroe County to drop to No. 6 in Physical Environment ranking, Tittel said. In Monroe County, 29 percent of the population was considered to have “severe housing problems” compared with the state average of 22 percent.

“The County Health Rankings are a starting point for change,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey said in a prepared statement, “helping communities come together, identify priorities and create solutions.”

Tittel said, “Compiling the data in this way gives public health officials at the local level something to think about when it comes time to develop campaigns targeting specific health factors and behaviors.”

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