For the past decade, more than 1,000 students per year in Highlands County learned about the possible consequences teen pregnancy, including single parenting and a lifetime of lowered income possibilities. Those programs, made possible by the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Alliance, have helped reduce the teen pregnancy rate in Highlands County steadily during the past several years, said Susan Buelow, coordinator. That’s one area among a few considered by the Florida Public Health Institute in determining health rankings for Florida counties where Highlands County stayed the same or improved. But in that area and many others the county remained below the state average. Florida Public Health Institute officials say the factors put together help determine the life expectancy in each county. Generally, the more urbanized counties score better because of more resources.
Besides teen pregnancy, the annual study includes smoking, obesity, excessive drinking, motor vehicle death rate, the ratio of primary care physicians in comparison with the general population, air pollution and the violent crime rate, among others. Highland County’s teen pregnancy rate has dropped from 68 per 1,000 females to 59 per 1,000 females. “All the data shows we’re doing better and better,” Buelow said. She said they have programs after school for students and abstinence programs. In that area, Highlands County has a way to go to improve, though. The state’s average is 40 per 1,000 females. The study indicates that more people die prematurely in Highlands County than the state average. So far in 2013, the state average was 7,310 years of preventable life lost by age 75 per 1,000 people. It was 8,610 in Highlands County. Local health officials note that while teen pregnancy rates have decreased, adult obesity increased. Since 2011 in Highlands County, it increased from 16 percent to 29 percent. The state’s average is 26 percent. The violent crime rate for Highlands County was better than the state average. It was 300 violent crimes per 100,000 population. The state’s average was 614. In a press release, Mary Kay Burns, administrator of the Highlands County Health Department, said the information from the study will help determine where the county will focus its efforts in the remainder of 2013. Jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834