Central Florida’s health kick pays off

Eight of Central Florida’s 10 counties are pacing the state in 2014 health rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. An abundance of innovative programs and fitness facilities have made it easier.

Eight of Central Florida’s 10 counties are pacing the state in 2014 health rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. An abundance of innovative programs and fitness facilities have made it easier.

Tim Freed

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Central Florida counties earned bragging rights recently for their health and fitness as they topped the charts on a statewide list put out by one of the nation’s leading health-focused non-profit organizations.

Eight out of Central Florida’s 10 counties finished in the upper half out of the state’s 67 counties last Wednesday in the 2014 health rankings released by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Seminole County took third place overall on the list just behind St. Johns and Collier for the healthiest county in the state. They moved up one spot from last year’s fourth place rank, remaining the healthiest county in Central Florida for the fifth straight year.

Cities like Casselberry could be the reason for Seminole’s success. Residents anxiously await the completion of the city’s very own trail system later this year, taking advantage of Casselberry’s kayak rentals in the meantime and preparing for the annual Autumn Rock ‘n’ Run 5K in September.

“I’m proud to be part of a community that does so well in the rankings,” Casselberry Mayor Charlene Glancy said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we will maintain the level of that quality of life and healthy living. I imagine at some point we’ll probably plateau to being at the top, because that’s what we promote.”

The city trail system should be completed by fall, Glancy said.

But the surrounding counties weren’t far behind. Osceola (15), Orange (12) and Lake (18) counties finished in the top 20 as well.

Orange kept hold of its 12th place spot from last year – after steadily climbing the rankings each year since 2010, when the county sat in 20th place.

“We are committed to maintaining the high quality of life that makes Orange County such a great place to work, play and raise a family,” Orange County Commissioner Ted Edwards said.

The Winter Park Chamber of Commerce tries to keep its local businesses in good health through Work Well Winter Park, a movement dedicated to improving health and well being in the workplace.

Work Well Winter Park tries to encourage employees to make healthier choices with a number of policies. Companies can hang family photos in stairwells to encourage them to walk past, provide phone numbers for restaurants with healthy options, or put an emphasis on fresh fruit at meetings instead of donuts.

“They’re fun, easy, encouraging ways to get people doing things,” said Patrick Chapin, president of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s easy to pick up the phone and call a Domino’s Pizza, but if you have the numbers of restaurants and caterers with healthy options, you’re just as likely to choose them."

The only two Central Florida counties outside of the top half were Marion and Volusia, falling behind at 41st and 43rd place.

Rankings are created for every state in the nation in partnership between the University of Wisconsin and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Researchers at the University take each county’s mortality rate and match it with statistics reflecting quality of life, including physical health, mental health and birth outcomes.

“After five years, the county health rankings continue to show us that where we live matters to our health,” said Karen Odegaard, associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

“The rankings really help us see what is impacting health in our community … communities can then dig down a little deeper and work together and say, ‘What can we do to improve health and build a culture of health in our community?’”