LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - New data ranking the healthiest counties across the country lists a Pine Belt county among the top five in Mississippi.
"That's very good," said Dr. Lara Otaigbe, family physician at Southern Medical Care. "That is an indicator of where we are in the state. We have a thriving educational community, and when you have an educated population, you tend to have a more aware community. So they tend to be healthier."
Overall county health is determined using two factors: how long people live and how healthy they feel while they're alive, but the foundation also ranks counties based on health factors, like health behaviors, clinical care, physical environment and social and economic factors, like education level.
Here's how the rest of the Pine Belt stacks up:
- Covington: 48
- Clarke: 45
- Forrest: 39
- Greene: 10
- Jasper: 56
- Jefferson Davis: 78
- Jones: 29
- Lamar: 3
- Marion: 69
- Pearl River: 20
- Perry: 30
- Simpson: 35
- Smith: 9
- Stone: 11
- Walthall: 49
- Wayne: 52
Dr. Otaigbe said lower health ratings for rural counties are likely impacted by socioeconomic factors and access to healthcare.
"Access to care is a little bit more difficult," she said. "They're having to drive further distances. It's a lot more difficult to make appointments. maybe they don't have vehicles to get out here. They tend not to have health insurance, so things are a little but more difficult that way."
Regardless of rank, Dr. Otaigbe said there are easy ways for everyone to improve personal health.
"You can pretty much walk anywhere, and if you can't go outside and walk, you can exercise in your home," she said. "You can pull up a YouTube video, and do an exercise routine for 10 or 15 minutes. Sometimes these are things that people don't really think about. Once you sit down and think about your lifestyle, that you can improve things for yourself, and so let's say you tell me you don't have money to go to the gym, but you're spending $2 a day on coca-cola. Once you wean yourself off Coke, you can suddenly afford to go to a really nice gym."
She also says managing stress, getting enough sleep and eating high-quality meals are essential.
"We sometimes think we can cheat nature, and if we can burn the candle at both ends, somehow we can make things work out," Dr. Otaigbe said. "But you've got to get enough sleep. You've got to manage your stress appropriately. You've got to eat high-quality meals. Every calorie is not equal. When I tell patients to improve their diet and manage their calories, they say, 'Well, I did stay under my calorie count.' You dig a little deeper, and it was burgers and fries. Yeah, you stayed under your calorie count, but you weren't eating high-quality meals."
Dr. Otaigbe said those things, along with things like making friends to keep your environment happy, go a long way to improve overall health.