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Where Does Your County Rank? Find Out on the County Health Rankings Website

 

Every county can see how its health measures up to others in its state with the County Health Rankings, released on Wednesday to showcase just how much where we live impacts health.

Produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, the fifth annual rankings take into account 29 different factors that impact health. The findings show that huge disparities exist between different counties — the least healthy counties have twice the death rates and twice as many children living in poverty compared to the healthiest ones.

The interactive rankings website allows visitors to explore rankings state-by-state, looking at both health outcomes — things such as death rates — and health factors, which includes things such as clinical care, social and economic factors and the physical environment.

The overall goal is to help counties use the data to create a culture of health in their communities, as the site also includes resources such as an action center, information about community grants, information on national partners and examples of specific policy and program strategies.

“The rankings are only as meaningful as the action they inspire, the people they bring to the table and the lives they improve,” Dr. Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy director of the County Health Roadmaps program, said during a webcast Wednesday studying the rankings.

Researchers identified a handful of health trends in this year’s rankings, including a 25 percent drop in teenage birth rates since 2007, a 20 percent decrease in preventable hospital stays from 2003 to 2011 and a decrease in smoking rates, from 21 percent in 2005 to 18 percent in 2012.

New measures also were added for 2014, including housing, transportation, food environments, mental health, injury-related deaths and exercise opportunities. While these factors impact health, they traditionally have been overlooked by policymakers and others when taking on public health issues.

Transportation plays a huge role in health, Willems Van Dijk noted, pointing to people who drive for 30 minutes or more to work each day because they lack access to adequate public transportation.  “When we’re driving in a car, we’re not exercising. And we’re often by ourselves, so there’s no interaction,” she said.

All of us can look for ways to create changes in our community to support a strong culture of health, said Dr. Mariell Jessup, president of the American Heart Association.

“Just as it’s important for every person to know their numbers and improve their own health, it’s important for each community to know their numbers and improve their community’s health,” Jessup said. “The American Heart Association applauds all the counties who have made tremendous strides and is pleased to support individuals and communities taking steps to better health.”