Bad Health Grade for Kern County

Published 03/26 2014 06:09PM

Updated 03/26 2014 11:25PM

KERN COUNTY - A new health report card for Kern County is not an enviable one. An outside health advocacy group ranks Kern County near the bottom of healthy California counties. The ranking is based on everything from pollution, injury deaths, poverty and how active people are on a regular basis, but county officials say a low ranking may not necessarily be a bad health grade.

Late morning on a weekday, Nancy Gonzalez is hard at work on the treadmill at the new Body Xchange gym on Panama Lane.

"I'm trying to lose weight and get ready for summer."

According to a new county-by-county health ranking by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which promotes public health, Gonzalez is the exception in Kern County.

Kern County ranks 54 out of 57 California counties for overall health. Gonzalez doesn't agree with the placement.

"I think a lot of people are really trying now," said Gonzalez. "I think there's a lot of people. There's a lot of people I've seen from my high school here. As long as you want to, you know."

Marin County ranked number one. By comparison, Kern County residents don't get as much physical activity or have access to exercise opportunities.

But within Bakersfield, Body Xchange vice president Rick Dennis said that isn't true.

"Square mile, per capita, we have just as many health clubs as the big cities do," said Dennis.

Body Xchange has eight gyms in Bakersfield with around 30,000 members. The new gym on Panama Lane opened last week with 3,000 new memberships.

"When we started enrolling members here, our membership started at $15 per month," said Dennis. "So, when you talk about an investment to a health club, 50 cents per day on average is really not a whole lot to ask of someone."

For non-gym members, the great outdoors has a lot to offer.

"I rather be out here than in a room or four walls all day at home or the gym," said walker Ramona Prendez. "Here you can go out and enjoy the nice weather."

"When you think about rankings, you have to be careful, because just because we're always on the bottom, doesn't mean we're not doing better," said Kern County Public Health epidemiologist Kimberly Hernandez. "Even if we're 58 out of 58, if the whole rest of the state is improving, that's a good thing."

County officials said the rankings help focus on health issues that need improvement.

"It really lays out very clearly for us a road map for how we can begin to address the problem," said Kern County Supervisor, Leticia Perez.

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