The health of Duval County’s residents has continued to decline over the past three years, while St. Johns County residents remain the healthiest in Florida — that’s according to a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin.
Premature deaths resulting from opioid overdoses were one factor in Duval’s slide, researchers said. But changes to the survey’s methodology could also be to blame for the county’s poor showing.
Researchers combine data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the census to create the annual County Health Rankings and Roadmaps survey.
Since 2015, Duval has slid from 43rd out of Florida’s 67 counties to 55th this year. But Florida roadmaps researcher Ericka Burroughs-Girardi cautions against a year-over-year direct comparison because rankings can change, even if residents’ health doesn’t.
“There could be health gains or health losses from other counties and those health gains or health losses will affect one particular county’s rating,” she said.
Burroughs-Girardi also said how the census and CDC calculate certain things — like smoking rates — can also change annually.
St. Johns County has remained on top for the last six years, and Clay County has moved up and down within the top 10.
Meanwhile, Duval’s residents saw a steep decline in their quality of life. While its premature death rate remained the same, the reason for those deaths shifted from other preventable diseases to opioid overdoses.
Still, lead researcher with roadmaps Marjorie Gibbons said there’s good news for Jacksonville since the study began tracking its health in the late 1990s.
“Looking again at premature death and the trends in Duval County suggests that things have actually been getting better, maybe not at the same rate as neighboring counties, but thinking about the fact that trends are one way for talking about this, but a rank provides you a snapshot in time,” she said.
Calls to the Duval County Health Department were not immediately returned.
Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk