Beaufort County can lay claim to having the healthiest people in the state, including Paul Sommerville, who swims every day.

"You don't have to spend a lot of money to stay healthy," said Sommerville, 65, a management consultant who also stays busy as County Council's vice chairman.

"It's good news, obviously," he said of the county's top ranking in a report released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute.

"We have for some time featured our natural resources and lifestyle. We have not been aware that we have a healthier population. I think this is something that we would want to feature," Sommerville said.

At the other end of the spectrum is Lee County in the Midlands, identified in the report as the state's least healthy place.

Alan Watkins, Lee County parks and recreation director, said the only hospital in the county closed in the early 1990s. Watkins said he knows of only one doctor in private practice in the county.

Most people go elsewhere to see a physician, and people call EMS for routine care, he said. There is discussion of opening a free medical clinic.

There are just a lot of obstacles. I haven't been to the doctor in a couple of years. Thankfully, I haven't had any problems," Watkins said.

The county has a softball league and aerobics classes. A gym is open in the morning for walking. "To be honest, we don't have a lot of adult activities right now. Our budget is very tight. Right now that's pretty much what we have," he said.

The report lists Dorchester, Charleston and Berkeley counties as numbers 5, 6 and 7, respectively, when it comes to healthy living. The state has 46 counties.

"This report shows us that there are big differences in overall health across South Carolina's counties, due to many factors, ranging from individual behavior to quality of health care, to education and jobs, to access to healthy foods and to quality of the air," said Patrick Remington, associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

In Beaufort County, Sommerville said he has his choice of three indoor, heated pools daily for $20 per month. He said health is a priority for him. "I'm not exactly sure that it totally correlates with affluence," he said.

It's about pride in doing the right thing to take care of yourself, he said. And it's also about knowing that through exercise and healthy living he is less likely to become a burden on the Medicare or Medicaid system. "I'm doing my part," he said.

Retirees drawn to Beaufort County senior living meccas bring their reasonably good health with them. They aren't just couch potatoes who are happy watching TV, Sommerville said.

The report looked at factors such as smoking, obesity, binge drinking, teenage pregnancy, uninsured adults and availability of primary care providers. Access to healthy foods, air pollution and liquor-store density were included in the evaluation, as well as rates of high school graduation and number of children in poverty.

Beaufort County, with a population of 137,849, has 17,117 residents who don't have medical insurance. Lee County has 3,877 uninsured residents out of a population of less than 20,000.

Beaufort County has the least incidence of premature death, meaning dying before age 75. In Lee County, premature death was the highest of all counties.