Compared to others, Volusia's relative healthiness is slipping a bit.
That's according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which on Wednesday released its annual county health rankings, a closely watched measure in public health. Using a number of government data sources, the nonprofit organization ranks counties across the country.
In Florida, St. Johns County once again took the No. 1 spot which it has held since 2014. Union County, with a population of about 15,000, was ranked the 67th, or lowest, in the state.
Volusia County slipped two places, landing at 44th. Flagler County’s ranking held steady at 14th.
A number of reasons can explain a county’s change in rank, including the health outcomes measured and the performance of other county’s, according to the foundation. Six counties, for example, hopscotched ahead of Volusia County this year.
Although monitored closely by public health agencies, the rankings also take into account areas beyond the reach of local health departments, like educational attainment, violent crime and income inequality.
“Our county health departments work hand in hand with local leaders and community partners to address the many individual and environmental factors that impact health,” State Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip said in a prepared statement. “The data in the rankings serves as an indicator for counties to determine the effectiveness of their community interventions and other potential areas of need.”
Volusia performed well in many of the broader categories measuring clinical care and health behaviors, but fell short when it came to the area’s physical environment and quality of life.
Julie Barrow, the executive director for One Voice for Volusia, a nonprofit group that was heavily involved with crafting Volusia’s most recent community health improvement plan, said some of the items should be taken with a “grain of salt.”
“(For) some of those things you have to weigh how impactful they are on the health and well being of the community,” Barrow said, referring to one yes or no question about drinking water violations.
“I think we’ve done pretty well with the health factors and the healthy behaviors; our clinical care is No. 16 out of 67 counties.”
Those high marks weren’t enough to pull Volusia up the ladder, though. The high school graduation rate as well as rates of adult smoking and obesity were worse than the state average.
Bob Snyder, administrator of the health department in Flagler County, said he was “pleased with the results.” The county of about 100,000 residents managed to remain at the top.
“We haven’t improved significantly and we haven’t decreased significantly,” Snyder said. “I’d like to see us in the top 10.”
Snyder said he sees a strong connection between the social and economic factors and how each county performs. St. Johns County, which is just north of Flagler, was in the top of the pack for all areas except one, the physical environment measure.
“All these things in total just add up to that health outcome and how long we live and how’s our quality of life,” Snyder said.
Although influential, both Snyder and Barrow said the report is only a starting point.
“At the end of the day our ranking is just a number, “ Barrow said, “until we dig deeper into what impacts the quality and length of life in Volusia County.”