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County health rankings do not bode well for St. Lawrence County

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: County health rankings do not bode well for St. Lawrence County
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It remains one of the least healthy counties in the state. But efforts in St. Lawrence County are underway to fix that. Barry Wygel takes a look at ways officials are working to make residents there healthier.

ST. LAWRENCE COUNTY, N.Y. -- The 2013 county health rankings don't have much good news for New York's largest county.

"Being 57 out of 62 is not a distinction we want to have," said Dr. Susan Hathaway, the director of public health for St. Lawrence County.

The poor rankings stem from a number of factors, but mostly from lifestyle choices by its residents.

"The ones the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlighted for us were tobacco use, smoking, obesity among adults and lack of physical activity," said Hathaway.

In addition to ranking as one of the least healthy counties, St. Lawrence also has one of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the state, two issues that are very closely related.

"We don't have good access to healthy foods and a lot of that comes with being able to pay for them, to bring them into the county," said Hathaway.

Officials also say the lack of jobs in the area prevents health care providers from expanding.

"We need to have jobs for spouses if we want to attract providers," said Hathaway.

But the report didn't spell out all bad news for St. Lawrence County, the county ranked at about the 50th percentile for its physical environment due to its high quality air and water.

"We have a great environment here in St. Lawrence County, particularly clean air," said Hathaway.

Efforts are also underway to encourage residents to make healthier choices.

"May 4th, the St. Lawrence County grounds go tobacco free. That's a move in the right direction," said Hathaway.

Officials also hold out hope that once the economy improves, the health statistics will improve also.

"This is the kind of change that is going to take a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of different agencies," said Hathaway.

A recent increase in population also gives officials hope, showing that people still feel the county is a great place to live.

To see how your county ranks against St. Lawrence County, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.

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