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Study suggests Sonoma County not as healthy, happy as years past

Andrea Niewald reaches for her toes with dumbbells during the LiveFit Boot Camp on the campus of Roseland Collegiate Prep on Friday, March 29, 2013.

(John Burgess / The Press Democrat)
Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 6:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 6:09 p.m.

Are you feeling more down and out-of-shape?

Facts

BY THE NUMBERS

■ Sonoma County ranked 39th in the nation in the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index for 2012. In 2011, it was ranked 13th and in 2009, it cracked the top five.

■ In emotional health, the county ranked

126th in U.S. after taking 27th last year.

■ In relation to the rest of the state, Sonoma County's well-being score placed it at seventh, while in 2009, it ranked first.

■ Sonoma County ranked lower in all categories for 2012, save for healthy behaviors and life evaluation, which assesses well-being five years out.

You apparently aren't alone, according to a massive study of Americans released this week that showed Sonoma County falling dramatically on a scale of how they feel in terms of their emotional, spiritual and physical health.

Sonoma County ranked 39th in the nation in the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index for 2012, only a year after it was ranked 13th and three years after the area cracked the top five.

The most striking finding was the county's ranking in the category of emotional health, which tracks people's perceptions of whether they feel sad, angry or worried.

In 2011, the county ranked 27th in the nation in that category. In 2012, it was 126th.

The survey includes 189 communities and about 350,000 daily phone interviews conducted over the course of a year.

The 2012 findings belie what was generally considered a a pretty good year for Sonoma County. The housing market continued its rebound and companies were hiring again. Data released Friday showed that the county's unemployment rate is the lowest it's been since December 2008. Even traffic is flowing better on Highway 101 (notwithstanding all the potholes everywhere else).

Even in relatively good times, people can perceive that their lives are not what they could or should be. For many, Sonoma County is not all wine and roses.

“We have tremendous assets on the one hand in this county — a very strong food system with beautiful open space,” said Peter Rumble, Director of Health Policy, Planning and Evaluation for Sonoma County Health Services. “But at the same time, there are some very isolated communities, even in urban areas like Santa Rosa, that are isolated from these assets.”

The Gallup-Healthway Survey began tracking well-being in America in 2008. The phone surveys involve questions in five categories: life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behavior, and basic access to things such as clean water, safe neighborhoods, fruits and vegetables, and health care.

Lincoln, Neb., had the highest well-being index score (72.8 out of 100) in 2012. Also in the top 10 were Boulder, Colo.; Provo-Orem, Utah; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo.; and Burlington-South Burlington, Vt.

At 60.8, Charleston, W.Va., scored lowest, displacing the Huntington-Ashland area encompassing West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, which held the position the two previous years.

West Virginia was ranked last in the nation among states for the fourth consecutive year in 2012. California held the 18th spot for the second consecutive year.

Sonoma County, which had an overall score of 68.7, ranked lower in each of the categories measured by the survey in 2012, save for healthy behaviors and life evaluation, which assesses how well one expects to be in five years.

Gallup's Dan Witters, the survey's research director, said Sonoma County's steep drop in the emotional health category is “rare,” but not unheard of. He also suggested that the drop may not be as dramatic as it appears.

“A tightly coiled range of scores are susceptible to big swings in rankings off of fairly modest changes in the actual score,” he said.

The other explanation is that significantly more people are suffering in Sonoma County.

Linda Winter, director of the Integrated Behavioral Health Program for the Petaluma Health Center, said more of her clients now include the long-term unemployed, including those whose benefits ran out last year.

She said these are people who had good-paying jobs and solid foundations beneath them, “and then the bottom fell out, and there was nothing for them.”

Many are in their 50s and 60s and find it harder to compete for jobs. She said some also struggle to find affordable housing or access to mental health services in light of county budget cuts.

“Economics are a really huge stressor for everybody,” Winter said.

Sonoma County's well-being score for 2012 placed it seventh in the state, three years after the county ranked first. Last year's honor went to San Luis Obispo County, followed by San Francisco-Oakland—Fremont and San Benito and Santa Clara counties, which includes San Jose.

Some survey results appeared contradictory. Sonoma County was ranked second in the nation for healthy behavior in 2012, but fell from 63rd to 99th place in the category of physical health.

Santa Rosa firefighter Scott Eberhart would have scored himself high in both categories. The 48-year-old father of three said the county is the ideal place to nurture his passion for outdoor fitness boot camps.

“You listen to the wind, watch the trees turn color. I like variety in many aspects of my life,” he said.

His kids have caught his enthusiasm. Eberhart said he came home the other day to find his teenaged daughters fresh from a jog, drinking smoothies and discussing ab exercises as they relaxed on the couch in front of the TV.

“These are not the teen-agers I was going to be raising when I was that age,” Eberhart said.

Jaron Eliopoulos, co-owner of LiveFit Boot Camp in Santa Rosa, said he started the business with 12 clients five years ago and that today it has more than 250.

“The weather's very important, but in all honesty, even when it's freezing or pouring rain, people still come,” he said.

Lori Furbush has seen similar growth in the tai chi, reiki and yoga classes she teaches, including at Kaiser-Permanente in Santa Rosa.

The Gallup-Healthways survey asked people how often they exercised on a weekly basis and whether they have access to a safe place to work out.

Furbush questioned whether that captured Sonoma County's demographics and the diversity of exercise options that are available here.

“When you look at a survey like this, it makes you wonder if they are looking at cardiovascular, western styles of movement, or taking into account that we are moving toward these gentler, or maybe more effective ways of exercising where the risk of injury is limited,” she said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.)

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