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New to County Health Rankings: Commuting

  For the first time, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is including the time spent in a car getting to and from work as a factor that influences health in its County Health Rankings.

The addition of the commuting measures comes out of a number of different studies, according to Dr. Roderick King, executive director of the Florida Public Health Institute.   

"I think one of the first ones emerged out of Illinois, where they did a mental health impact assessment and one of the things they looked at was commuting, commuting distance and driving alone," said Dr. Roderick King, the executive director of the Florida Public Health Institute. "And so I think what this has sparked nationally is now a new area to look at in terms of things that may impact how we live and how it may impact our health overall." 

study published in 2012 by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine "found that the farther people commute by vehicle, the higher their blood pressure and body mass index." 

Across Florida, 79 percent of the workforce drives alone to work; 37 percent commute more than 30 minutes, according to data compiled in the County Health Rankings. 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute use existing data to show counties how well they are doing on 29 different factors that influence health outcomes and health factors. This is the fifth year for the rankings. 

Other measures that are new this year:

  • Food environment index
  • Access to exercise opportunities
  • Alcohol-impaired driving deaths
  • Mental health providers
  • Injury deaths
  • Severe housing problems

Once again, St. John's County tops the list as the healthiest Florida county.

Top five counties:

1. St. John's

2. Collier

3. Seminole

4. Martin

5. Miami-Dade

Bottom five counties:

63. Hamilton

64. Baker

65. Putnam

66. Washington 

67. Union 

A news release announcing the latest rankings notes "Union County, home to Florida State Prison, the Union Correction Institution and the Florida Department of Corrections Reception and Medical Center has a disproportionately high premature death rate due to its large inmate population."

Lottie Watts covers health and health policy for Health News Florida, now a part of WUSF Public Media. She also produces Florida Matters, WUSF's weekly public affairs show.