EVERETT — Snohomish is the sixth-healthiest county in the state, up one spot from last year, according to an annual national survey.
The study was completed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, and looked at the health of nearly every county in the United States.
It has categories such as smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption, teen births and length of life, plus physical environment, clinical care and social and economic factors.
Snohomish County had its best ranking in 2018 and 2019, finishing third those years.
This most recent report shows the top five healthiest counties are San Juan, King, Whitman, Island and Douglas.
While the survey is a helpful tool, it’s one of many ways to track the county’s health, Snohomish Health District spokesperson Heather Thomas said.
“This is just one snapshot,” she said. “It’s not the only look at the health of Snohomish County, but it’s still good to see how we compare and changed year over year.”
According to the survey, Snohomish County has some of the lowest numbers in the state when it comes to teen birth rates.
There are about 12 teen births for every 1,000 girls and women ages 15 to 19 in the county, according to the results. That matches the national trend, but in Washington that number is 16 of every 1,000.
Data show that 13% of adults smoke cigarettes in the county, compared to 12% in Washington and 16% nationwide. Those numbers do not take into consideration other nicotine products, such as vapes.
When it comes to alcohol consumption, the county is about the same as the rest of the state — 17% of adults reported they either binge or heavily drink. And 29% of driving deaths involve alcohol. Statewide that number is 33%, three times higher than the national number of 11%.
While San Juan County is rated as the healthiest, 75% of its driving deaths involve alcohol. That’s the highest number in Washington, tied with Columbia County in the southeast part of the state.
Much of this information is gathered over a number of years, and 2020 was not included in this round. That means future numbers could be skewed by the pandemic.
For example, Snohomish County is the third-worst in the state when it comes to work commute times. It’s tied with Skamania County on the state’s southern border.
Nearly half of people who drive alone to work — 48% — spend more than 30 minutes in their vehicles, the survey says. Nationally that number is 16%, and in Washington it is 37%.
“Longer commutes have been associated with higher blood pressure and body mass index, as well as an increased risk of obesity and poor mental health,” according to the health district.
That could change as people have started working from home, and as more transit options become available in the future.
At the same time, Gabrielle Fraley, an epidemiologist with the Snohomish Health District, wonders if fewer people will be willing to take public transit as we climb out of the pandemic.
“People who still have to go into work, are they now afraid to take the bus or opting out of carpooling for COVID reasons?” she said. “A smaller batch, but it might still have an impact.”
Another value that could change is life expectancy, as hundreds in the county have died early from COVID-19. The survey shows premature death in the county is on par with the nation and below the state numbers.
The survey also points to sexually transmitted infections increasing everywhere, not just in Snohomish County.
Data show there were about 332 new chlamydia infections here in one year per 100,000 people. Statewide that number is around 465, with an estimated 161 nationally.
Part of the reason is a reduction in public health funding, with prevention practices, such as education and outreach, cut in many places, Thomas said.
Another reason is because oftentimes people with chlamydia have no symptoms, but testing might occur more frequently in some places anyway, Fraley said.
“So that is one caveat, that it might be that certain counties with better testing are going to look like they have a higher rate, when they are just catching more undetected,” she said.
The survey takes information from multiple sources to come up with its results. Thomas encourages people to fill out these kinds of questionnaires when asked, to help the county with this kind of data.
A complete report of the survey can be found at CountyHealthRankings.org.