Sumter County leading way in healthful habits

Michelle Shortt, of the Village of Bridgeport at Miona Shores, stays active and healthy by playing pickleball. She took up the sport after moving to The Villages.

Sumter County ranked first in the state for health behaviors in the 2020 County Health Rankings, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. “Sumter County has so many positive elements that contribute to this success — residents that are looking to live their best lives and are engaged in their health, communities that offer access to healthy activities year-round,” said Amy Wixted, population health manager for The Villages Health. Here’s a breakdown of what led to the placement.

1. Sumter County had an inactivity rate of 22%, compared to the state average of 26% of adults who reported no leisure-time physical activity in the past month. Michelle Shortt, of the Village of Bridgeport at Miona Shores, always has exercised. Pickleball became the activity of choice after moving to The Villages. She even purchased her own net to play on her lanai with a friend when courts closed. “Regular physical activity is one of the golden tickets in health as it has positive impacts on your physical, mental and emotional health,” Wixted said.

2. The rankings also measured the county’s Food Environment Index at 8.1, outpacing the state’s average of 6.9. Sumter’s strengths are based on access to healthy foods due to income and proximity to a grocery store. There is strong evidence that food deserts are correlated with high prevalence of overweight, obesity, and premature death as supermarkets traditionally provide healthier options than convenience stores, according to County Health Rankings. Wixted pointed to Sumter’s plethora of healthy eating options produced by local farms and stocked in markets as factors that helped boost the county’s score.

3. Sumter County once again ranked best in the state for smoking with the lowest recorded rate at 12%. Florida’s average smoking rate was 16%. Cigarette smoking is a cause for a slew of health concerns including various cancers, heart disease and respiratory problems. The rankings measured the percentage of adults who currently smoke every day or most days and have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime. Sumter has the highest rate of former smokers in the Florida at 48.5%, according to the Florida Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey.

4. Sumter rose to first in health behaviors for 2020 after a second-place ranking the year before. One area where the county is seeking more improvement is the adult obesity rate of 29%, said Sumter County Health Department public information office Megan McCarthy. Health behaviors is a subcategory of the overall health factors measurement — which also includes clinical care, social and economic factors and  physical environment — where Sumter County placed 25th among Florida’s 67 counties. Sumter County came in 22nd for health outcomes, including the 10th-highest rating for quality of life.

5. The ranking isn’t a fluke: It’s the fourth year in a row Sumter County ranked in the top two for health behaviors. “One thing that’s wonderful about Sumter County is the unique abundance of opportunities for healthy lifestyle habits,” McCarthy said. Shortt plans to continue to take advantage of exercise opportunities, with the help of peers such as Pat Johnston, who started the Lady Picklers League she takes part in. “That’s the value of living here in The Villages: It’s hard not to have an active lifestyle,”   Shortt said.