For the third year in a row, residents in every county in the nation can view a clearer picture of their communities’ health as well as the barriers to better health.
Today marked the release of the third annual County Health Rankings, which compares the health of more than 3,000 counties and Washington, D.C., based on factors ranging from premature death and poor mental health days to physical inactivity rates and the prevalence of fast food restaurants. Counties within every state are ranked according to health outcomes, and readers can easily see how well their county is doing when compared to neighboring counties.
The online report, which is published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, takes into account factors that fall into four categories when determining a county’s rank: health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment.
“The County Health Rankings show us that much of what influences our health happens outside of the doctor’s office,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in a statement. “In fact, where we live, learn, work and play has a big role in determining how healthy we are and how long we live.”
The rankings report shines a critical light on the social determinants of health, giving them considerable weight when calculating a county’s overall health ranking. For example, in Delaware County, Ohio, 95 percent of ninth-graders graduate high school in four years, the child poverty rate is 7 percent and unemployment is a little more than 7 percent.
Right next door in Morrow County, Ohio, 22 percent of children live in poverty, 85 percent of ninth-graders graduate in four years and unemployment is at more than 10 percent. Despite sharing a border, Delaware County ranks No. 1 in Ohio while Morrow County ranks 74, according to the County Health Rankings.
In an upcoming story about the report in the May/June issue of The Nation’s Health newspaper, rankings researcher and APHA member Patrick Remington, discusses the stark differences between counties that sit right next to each other. Remington, a professor and associate dean at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said he hopes residents and policymakers will use the rankings report to begin talking about solutions.
“After three years, we’ve learned that people across the entire nation want to know how the health of their county compares to others in their state,” said Remington in a news release announcing the report. “This annual check-up helps bring county leaders together to see where they need to improve.”
In addition to the rankings, which were released during this year’s National Public Health Week observance, visitors to the online report can access the County Health Roadmaps project, which is helping residents take action to create healthier communities.