Every year, the County Health Rankings grades the health of Americans living in nearly every U.S. county. The fourth-annual report shows the good — and the bad.

On one hand, premature death rates in the U.S. have never been lower in 20 years. On the other, residents of the unhealthiest counties die early more than twice as frequently as those from the healthiest.

The report — published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute — examines 25 health factors including rates of childhood poverty and smoking, obesity levels, rates of high school graduation, access to healthy foods and teen birth rates. Among its positive findings, violent crime has decreased by nearly 50 percent over the past two decades.

However, the report also finds alarming trends, including:

  • more than one in five children live in poverty, a rate that has not improved since 2000;
  • teen birth rates are more than twice as high in the least healthy counties than in the healthiest counties; and
  • compared to residents from the unhealthiest counties, residents from healthier counties are 1.4 times more likely to have access to a doctor and dentist.

“We all have a stake in creating a healthier community and no single sector alone can tackle the health challenges in any given community,” said Patrick Remington, professor and associate dean at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and an APHA member. “The Rankings are sparking action all over the country as people from all sectors join forces to create new possibilities in health — county by county.”

Using the data to foster better health is exactly what report authors intend.

“The County Health Rankings can be put to use right away by leaders in government, business, health care and every citizen motivated to work together to create a culture of health in their community,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, foundation president and CEO.

To take action in creating healthier communities, visit the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program online.