How healthy is your county?

New analysis paints nation's health picture

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute this week released the second annual county-by-county analysis of public health, identifying the healthiest and most unhealthy counties in each state.

For the 2011 County Health Rankings—which provides rankings at the state and national levels—researchers examined nearly all of the about 3,000 counties or county equivalents nationwide. The analysis does not include 124 counties or county equivalents because of a lack of data, Modern Healthcare reports. Specifically, researchers analyzed:

  • Mortality rate among people younger than age 75;
  • High school graduation rates;
  • Access to healthy foods;
  • Air pollution levels;
  • Income; and
  • Smoking, obesity and teen birth rates.

The rankings only compared counties within states. For example, San Juan County was named the healthiest county in Washington state—despite not having a hospital—and Kendall County was named the healthiest county in Illinois. According to the report, the most unhealthy counties share common characteristics, such as lower high school graduation rates, higher rates of unemployment and significantly fewer grocery stores or farmer's markets.

James Marks, director of RWJF's health group, said last year's report prompted significant action in low-ranking counties. He added that future reports likely will have the same effect (Barr, Modern Healthcare, 3/30 [subscription required]; Tanner, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 3/29; Collins, "Marketplace," American Public Media, 3/30).

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