FORSYTH COUNTY — It may be Forsyth County’s worst-kept secret at this point. After all, it’s one of the main reasons people keep moving here.
Forsyth has retained its title as the healthiest county in Georgia. The sixth annual County Health Rankings, released today, placed Forsyth on top for the third year in a row.
The rankings, complied by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, compare the health of nearly every county in the nation.
Local-level data allows each state to see how its counties match up on 30 factors that influence health, including education, housing, violent crimes, jobs, diet and exercise.
“It shows good cooperation between everyone, between government, nonprofits, local businesses, the school system, our sheriff’s office, our drug awareness council,” said Forsyth County Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills. “… We’re all trying to work together, so that all facets of the community, if there’s any need, that we’re addressing those needs and looking at them realistically to try to do something about it and improve it.”
Mills said a goal to maintain the health in Forsyth will come from her plan for a wellness community and increasing interconnectivity between subdivisions and trail systems.
“I have a vision for a continuation of, more and more, building toward wellness,” she said. “It’s paramount in our vision for the future.”
Forsyth’s top ranking comes in the form of “health outcomes,” which look at how long people live and how healthy they feel.
“When we look at how long people live, we examine what we call ‘premature death,’” said the key findings report.
This means deaths before age 75, “since many of these death are preventable.”
Specifically, they look at years of life lost, which means deaths at an earlier age are given more weight than those who die closer to age 75.
Forsyth County recorded 4,234 years of life lost to premature deaths, compared to the state’s average of 7,314.
“To estimate how healthy people feel, we use measures of people’s reported health status and how often they feel healthy each month,” the report said. “And our final measure of health outcomes gauges the share of a community’s youngest members that have an unhealthy start to life: we look at the percent of babies born with low birthweight.”
South-neighboring Gwinnett County came in second heathiest this year out of Georgia’s 159 counties, with Fayette and Cobb counties following. Cherokee, Forsyth’s neighbor to the west, ranked sixth, while DeKalb and Fulton counties came in 19th and 20th.
Nationally, this year’s rankings show that the healthiest counties in each state have higher college attendance, fewer preventable hospital stays and better access to parks and gyms.
Adult obesity in Forsyth was recorded at 25 percent, lower than Georgia’s 29 percent.
Compared to 27 percent statewide, just 9 percent of Forsyth’s children live in poverty, and 88 percent of children graduate high school. Statewide, that percentage drops to 70.
On the other end, the least healthy counties have more smokers, teen births and alcohol-related car crash deaths.
More than 60 percent of counties in the nation have seen some level of improvement in premature death between 2004-06 and 2010-12. However, among the country’s largest counties — a population of more than 65,000 — Fulton County ranked 10th in having the greatest drop in premature deaths.
Local officials welcomed the healthy ranking.
“The folks who live here are usually professionals, and those folks don’t tend toward criminal behavior and lifestyles. We find they tend toward healthy lifestyles,” said Forsyth County Sheriff Duane K. Piper.
Jason Mock, director of small business services for the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, said the ranking shows that “people in Forsyth County care about their health care and care about their lives and are actively involved in living a healthy life.”
mock highlighted the reasons Forsyth boasts such an impressive health record, including “a great hospital where access to health care is easily achieved in your backyard” and “a great parks and rec system people can take advantage of and actively be out walking and exercising.”
Touting the healthiest county in the state title attracts businesses to the community, according to Mock.
“When a company is looking to relocate, they want to look at health care,” he said. “They want their employees and families to have adequate access to good-quality health care. It just shows that Forsyth County does have that.”
He said the involved groups throughout the county who contributed to Forsyth’s healthy reputation will continue to find ways to convince physicians to relocate here.