Too much smoking, eating and binge drinking and not enough health insurance has Florida lagging in the lower tier of a recent U.S. health care rating.
The America's Health Rankings United Health Foundation lists Florida the 34th healthiest state.
Sally Jackson, system director of government and community relations for Lee Memorial Health System, said Florida has ranked similarly for a few years.
It is a life-and-death situation, she said, but Jackson believes there is a huge opportunity to improve health in Lee County.
Uninsured people and unhealthy behaviors contribute to Florida's lower-half place in the U.S. health rankings.
Smoking is still rampant in Lee County and Florida ranks No. 16 nationwide.
"There are far too many smokers in Lee County," Jackson said. "The damage can significantly be repaired."
Programs to stop smoking in Lee County include Tobacco Free Lee, which encourages tobacco-free workplaces and developing tobacco free campus.
Lee County binge drinking ranks No. 17, according to the report.
"For our area, we see a larger percentage of binge drinkers who are in the senior age groups," Jackson said.
People have more time on their hands to attend social activities where drinking is a part of the event.
Obesity is another problem, as Florida ranks No. 19 nationwide, according to the United Health Foundation.
"We are the fattest country in the world," Jackson said.
Jackson said two-thirds of overweight people are obese, which is driving health care costs higher.
"We as a society accepted that," she said. "We need to understand what that is doing, take on that challenge to commit to a healthier lifestyle and get off medications that are created by conditions tied to obesity."
Healthy Lee Coalition was formed to help fight obesity. A task force is working to find ways to provide lifestyle information in the workplace, fitness challenges, nutrition tips and exercise.
From 2007 to 2011, obesity rates grew six percentage points in Lee County. Jackson said Lee County is going in the wrong direction.
"As a community we need to do more," she said. "Becoming more physically fit will allow you to have a longer life."
Jackson said Lee County did improve in the percentage of people who are physically active.
But insurance is another matter. According to the United Health Foundation, 17 percent of the Florida population was uninsured 10 years ago and now it is 20.2 percent.
"We have seen significant increases in uninsured," Jackson said.
Unemployment and low wages are roadblocks to insurance for many. Jackson said only the sickest of low-income receive Medicaid benefits.
"It doesn't cover healthy adults," she said of Medicaid.
A 2010 survey showed 82,000 people use the emergency department for primary care because they have no insurance.
"We know that people without insurance have difficulty of access to care," Jackson said.
The Lee Memorial Health System expanded its services in the 18 months by providing clinics for the uninsured. Lee Memorial has partnered with the United Way to provide a medicinal house in Dunbar and one in North Fort Myers to take care of those in need.
"Hopefully we can expand even more," Jackson said.
Revenues and state funding pay for Lee Memorial clinics.
Jackson said health officials believe the community can become healthier. Lee Memorial is working on a website healthylee.com to get more education material out to the public, provide a public forum and advertise community walks and runs.
Lee Memorial Health System collects assessment trend data for Lee County every three years, which can be found at healthforecast.net. The last data collected was in 2011. Jackson said it will be collected again in 2013.