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Dawson County ranks among Georgia’s healthiest places while struggling with these medical concerns
Health rankings 2023
File photo.

Dawson County has been named one of the top 20 healthiest counties in Georgia, according to a 2023 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report. 

The annual study by the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation looks at health outcomes and behaviors for states across the nation. 

This story continues below.

Dawson was named the 18th-healthiest county in Georgia, ranking 18th in health outcomes and 12th in health factors.

Neighboring Forsyth County was named the healthiest county in Georgia by the report, placing first and second respectively for its health outcomes and behaviors. 

Health outcomes are measured by categories such as premature death, poor physical and mental health days and prevalence of diseases like diabetes or HIV.

Health factors are measured by a range of behaviors, available medical care, socioeconomic factors and other environmental conditions.   

Areas to improve

The study shows multiple areas where Dawson County could improve, such as that only 31% of female Medicare enrollees ages 65-74 received an annual mammography screening, slightly less than 36% overall in Georgia and 37% nationwide. In Dawson, malignant neoplasms, which can be cancerous, are the leading causes of death for people under the age of 75. 

Dawson County’s rate of injury deaths was 98 per 100,000 people, higher than 69 for Georgia overall and 76 across the U.S. Specifically for fatal drug overdoses, Dawson ranked sixth highest in Georgia with a rate of 27 overdoses per 100,000 people. 

The report’s methods page cited an 137% increase in nationwide drug overdose deaths since 2000, citing opioids as a large factor in the uptick. 

During the Dawson County Republican Party’s November 2022 meeting, Sheriff Jeff Johnson shared that his agency saw “an alarming increase in overdose calls” between 2020 and 2021, from 23 to about 54 calls.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows that synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, have had a growing role in drug overdose deaths in the U.S., increasing to 66% of drug-involved fatalities by 2021.

Statistics are not currently available to help quantify fentanyl’s impact on people specifically in Dawson County.

Suicide is the fifth top cause of death for people under 75 years old in Dawson County, according to the report. 


  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Call 9-8-8; text TALK to 838255 or start a chat at

  • The Veterans Crisis Line: Dial 988 and press 1. People can also reach out for veteran support by texting TALK to 838255 or by starting a chat on the 988 website.

  • Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL): 1-800-715-4225; text and chat through the My GCAL app, available on Google Play and in the App Store

  • Crisis Text Line: Text TALK to 741741 or start a chat via WhatsApp

  • The Trevor Project (LGBTQ): 1-866-488-7386; text START to 678678 or start a chat at

The age-adjusted number of suicide deaths in Dawson is 31 per 100,000 people, the second-highest rate in the state, according to 2016-2020 data analyzed for the report. Lumpkin County, to the east, has the highest rate, with 32 suicide deaths per 100,000 people. 

The report’s methods page called suicide rates “an important measure of the mental health of a county’s population”.

“Outside of the impact on the emotional and mental health of surviving friends, family members, and loved ones, suicide also has an economic impact and costs the United States an estimated $70 billion per year,” the page stated. 

DCN previously reported on the sheriff office’s, school system’s and locals’ “We Care” campaign to share mental health resources and help support the wider community. 

Previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 9-8-8 is a three-digit number people can call when they or someone they are concerned about is experiencing suicidal thoughts, substance use or any other type of mental or emotional distress, according to the lifeline’s website. 

Areas of strength

Several factors helped Dawson County earn a top 20 spot in the county-level rankings. 

Dawson’s food environmental index was ranked an 8.8 out of 10, the fifth best score in Georgia. That score takes into consideration factors like proximity to a grocery store, number of food stores and restaurants, food prices and taxes, expenses on fast foods and local food availability.

Other factors include the community’s ability to maintain a healthy diet as well as demographics, income, poverty, natural amenities and recreation and fitness centers.  

Health rankings 2
On June 16, 2020, officials with the city of Dawsonville welcomed the first group of youngsters to use the playground facility at Main Street Park during its official opening to the public. Photo submitted to DCN.

In Dawson County, 90% of residents reported adequate access to locations for play and exercise, with many people living near either a park, recreation facility or other outside space. Only 75% of people statewide reported the same.

The unemployment rate for people ages 16 and older is 2.7% in Dawson County, lower than the 3.9% and 5.4% rates for Georgia and the U.S. as a whole. 

Dawson also ranked among the top for high school graduations for Georgia counties, with 96% of students graduating in four years. In comparison, graduation rates were 85% and 87% for the state and the country.

The Population Health Institute uses the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program to help “improve health outcomes for all and close health gaps between those with the most and fewest opportunities for good health,” according to the university’s report. 

“CHR&R is committed to creating resources and tools that support community-led efforts to accurately diagnose core problems, understand and account for historical context and implement evidence-informed solutions,”  the report stated.