Report: Travis County among the top ten overall healthiest counties throughout the state

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Travis County residents are among some of the healthiest in Texas, with considerable access to gyms and medical care, far outpacing the state’s larger counties, according to a recently released report.

Last Wednesday, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released their seventh-annual report that compares counties across the country by looking at measures such as adult obesity, number of uninsured, violent crime numbers and air pollution. 

Out of Texas’ five most heavily populated counties — Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis — Travis ranked far ahead for overall health in ninth place, with Tarrant coming in at 41 as the next healthiest urban county in the state.

Mary Bennett, associate researcher with the University institute, said multiple metrics were used in the annual study to factor the overall health of the 241 Texas counties. 

“The rankings make it very clear that good health includes many factors beyond medical care,” Bennett said. “Rankings show us that where you live really does matter to our health and that not everyone has the same opportunities to be healthy.”

There are four major health measures that factored into the study of Travis County’s overall health: health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic behaviors and physical environment. 

“It makes sense that Austin is so much more healthier than all the other cities because you can tell the improvements and strides Austin has made [to accommodate] people who are environmentally conscious and want to improve themselves,” said mathematics junior Erika Herod, a vegetarian who bikes around campus.

While some think of access to clinical and medical care when they think of health, the report shows social and economic factors — such as social connectedness — have the most substantial impact on a population’s health, Bennett said.

“People who don’t have high social associations and connectedness don’t eat as well as others, which is very interesting,” Bennett said. “So you have to think about all those ripple effects when people are very connected.”

Despite the positive figures for Travis County, there are still several areas that require further focus and attention, city health officials said.

“When you look at rates of HIV/AIDS, which is one of our leading causes of mortality here in Travis County, … what you see is a significant disparity compared to other counties,” said Shannon Jones, Austin/Travis County health and human services director. 

Although the county exceeded Texas as a whole in almost every metric, the county has seen its rates of sexually transmitted infections and rates of mammography screenings worsen over the last 10 years, the report shows. 

On sexually transmitted infections in particular, Jones said the county has continuously seen higher rates for African-Americans and other communities of color compared to whites, despite African-Americans constituting less than eight percent of the total population, according to 2014 demographic estimates.

Jones said the City Council and City officials have worked to combat the county’s problem areas through investing millions of dollars into the department’s budget last year to help promote public health and addressing health inequities throughout the city.

“We’ve begun the process of utilizing those dollars this year to begin to try and turn around those negative outcomes we see in our community for those who are not as fortunate the overall community is,” Jones said.