UPDATE: Residents react to county health rankings

CAMDEN (KATV) - It might seem hard to believe but some researchers say your address could have a direct connection to your waistline.

The University of Wisconsin and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) Health Group ranked every county in the nation by how healthy they are using factors like childhood poverty, smoking, obesity levels, and access to doctors.

Michelle Larkin is assistant vice president and deputy director for RWJF's Health Group. She said there are many factors that influence health and that the research actually helps communities improve health.

"What we're learning from the rankings is that it's not one single thing that makes us healthy or unhealthy - it's actually a variety of factors, such as tobacco use, physical inactivity, and community safety, that all come together to help us be healthy," Larkin said.

Larkin said the ranking reveal a several things. One is that where one lives matters to their health. "Second, factors outside of medical care like having a job, a good education, access to healthy foods, and a safe place to live affect how healthy we are," Larkin said.

In Arkansas, Benton County topped the list for healthiest county. It's followed by another Northwest Arkansas county: Washington. Faulkner and Saline counties are also in the top five.

The least healthy county is Ouachita. Residents Channel 7 News spoke with the day the research was released were disappointed by the ranking, even ashamed of it - but not surprised.

"It's a little disappointing," said David Morgan. "It's hard to hear that we're that bad."

"It definitely hurts to hear that the county that you live in is top of the list as far as being unhealthy," said Earl Beasley, manager of Anytime Fitness in Camden.

Beasley and the members of his gym said they believe there are two reasons for the ranking: one is cultural.

"A lot of people don't have enough motivation to wake up or, you know, to get off work and then come to the gym." said Mark Hammock.

Morgan agreed, adding that there isn't much to do in the county to keep residents active.

"Everybody likes to eat cheap and go have fun."

The second - and perhaps bigger - problem is financial. Beasley said membership dropped 15 percent recently because of the economy. He believes that when an area's bank accounts are unhealthy, the people who live there will be, too.

"For several years, loss of industries and things of that nature so, first, people's pockets are not as full as they used to be."

Many residents we spoke with agreed, saying that the fact that Ouachita County has one of the state's highest unemployment rates may be a factor.

Phillips, Mississippi and Poinsett counties are also near the bottom of the list. Pulaski County is number 22.