Study: Beaufort healthiest county in SC

The Associated PressMarch 20, 2013 

Beaufort County is the healthiest place in South Carolina, according to rankings released Wednesday, while the county with the state’s highest jobless rate is rated as the unhealthiest place to live.

The rankings by the University of Wisconsin cited Beaufort County’s relatively low adult obesity rate of 21 percent, as well as an active adult population. Only 16 percent of residents in the coastal county are smokers, researchers said, compared with 21 percent across the state overall.

Beaufort has been ranked as South Carolina’s healthiest county since at least 2010, according to researchers.

Marion County was listed as the state’s unhealthiest county, with an adult obesity rate of 38 percent. According to the study, South Carolina’s overall adult obesity rate is 31 percent.

The counties’ health rankings mirror their jobless rates.

Coastal Beaufort County, typically home to one of the lowest rates in the state, marked 7.7 percent unemployment in January — a full percentage point lower than the 8.7 percent statewide rate.

Marion County’s unemployment was South Carolina’s highest in January, at 19.2 percent.

Lexington County ranked No. 4 in the state, while Richland and Kerhsaw counties ranked eighth and 10th, respectively.

Lexington benefitted from its relatively low unemployment, 7.8 percent, while Richland had the fewest smokers among the three — 17 percent. Kershaw ranked third among the three Midlands counties because it had more smokers, 22 percent, and higher unemployment, 9.5 percent.

All three counties were comparable in obesity rates, at about the state average.

State officials have made tackling obesity, and the myriad of health issues that accompany it, a major focus this year. Last month, the director of South Carolina’s Department of Social Services said she had asked the federal agency that administers the food stamp program to start discussing ways to change it, in the hopes of making sure people use the benefits for healthy food.

DSS director Lillian Koller said that about 878,000 people in South Carolina receive about $1.4 billion in benefits each year through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Koller would need USDA permission to make any changes to or place restrictions on purchases made under the federal program. Currently, alcohol and tobacco products are the only prohibited items, but Koller said she planned to ask the federal government for a waiver to cut the list of allowed items in South Carolina to healthy purchases.

Starting this week, state health officials are beginning a series of public meetings to hear what foods should be removed from the list of food stamp-eligible items.

The State contributed to this report.

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