For the seventh straight year, Marin holds the title of the healthiest County in California, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Despite the best overall rating, persistent health and social inequities remain a challenge for Marin health officials.
The annual County Health Rankings were released today, and Marin shines in many measures of health. The rankings consider two main health outcomes: premature death and quality of life, and multiple factors that affect health including behavior, clinical care, the physical environment, and social and economic factors.
For example, Marin ranks highest in life expectancy and lowest rates of adults reporting fair or poor health and teen births. Marin is No. 2 among counties with a high number of adults with a healthy body weight and low rate of unemployment and violent crime.
“Community investments such as reserving land for open space and social norms around healthy eating and staying active have helped Marin maintain our ranking,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of Marin County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “However, the rankings also reflect major disparities across Marin and help us know where we need to prioritize our work. For example, we need to focus on increasing equity in health care coverage, access to health food, early childhood education, and job training so everyone has an opportunity to optimize his or her health.”
Marin ranked poorly – No. 54 out of 57 counties reporting – in income inequality, a measure that focused on the ratio between those with the highest incomes (above 80 percent of the median) and the lowest incomes (below 20 percent of the median). The County also fared poorly in one of the foundation’s new additional measures: racial segregation between whites and non-whites. Marin came in No. 50 among the 56 counties reporting. Racial segregation can translate to disparities in income, educational opportunities and work opportunities – all three of which lead to poor health outcomes.
When it comes to opportunities to live a long and healthy life, a few miles can make an enormous difference in Marin. There is a 15-year gap between life expectancy in Ross (94) and Marin City (79), a disparity that correlates with the per capita income.
Marin HHS is working in communities to help improve life expectancy. The Nutrition Wellness Program works with schools that have high obesity rates, which is known to drive heart disease and other conditions that lead to premature death. In Marin City, for example, Marin HHS supports nutrition education, walk to school programs, school gardens, and marketing to attract health-conscious grocery stores.
“While there are signs of progress, we’re more vulnerable than these rankings suggest,” said Dr. Matt Willis, the County’s Public Health Officer. “There is much more to do to achieve health equity in Marin. We need to continue to bolster programs and policies that address poverty, jobs, housing, and education.”
The County has made steady progress on many fronts with social equity, and the Board of Supervisors has made equity a priority. For instance:
- It has made a commitment to preserve existing affordable housing, explore ways to acquire more affordable housing and encourage landlords to adhere to voluntary rent guidelines.
- Marin County Parks is in its third year of a program designed to help more Marin residents, especially the underserved, to visit and enjoy parks and open spaces.
- The Marin County Fair and Play Fair Marin have partnered for 14 years to build and maintain a healthy and successful fair as well as create a resource guide for ongoing and future success.
- The Department of Public Works is diligent in its efforts to improve disability access and safety at County-maintained facilities, such as widening a popular pathway in the lower Ross Valley.
- The County has even launched a TV series to promote education on mental health.
Other community efforts working to alleviate poverty and promote success of Marin residents are Rise Together, Marin Promise, and Marin Strong Start.