How healthy is your county? RWJF's annual report breaks it down

Alcohol consumption is not linked to a county's health

A new county-by-county analysis from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute maps the healthiest and least healthy places in the United States.

For the 2013 County Health Rankings, researchers analyzed federal data on more than 3,000 counties or county equivalents, examining:

  • Clinical care (such as access to PCPs, preventable hospitalizations, and insurance rates);
  • Health outcomes (such as mortality and morbidity);
  • Health behaviors (such as obesity rates, smoking, and alcohol consumption);
  • Social and economic factors (such as unemployment and crime rates); and
  • Physical environment (such as access to healthy foods and air pollution).

Researchers found that in the healthiest counties, there was one PCP for every 1,491 residents, while in the least healthy counties, there was one PCP for every 2,129 residents.

Smoking, obesity, and preventable hospital stays linked to counties' health

The researchers found that residents of the unhealthiest counties experienced the most preventable hospital stays (82.8 hospital stays per year for every 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries) compared to the healthiest counties (57.2 stays per 1,000 beneficiaries).

High smoking rates and obesity are indicators of a county's health, according to researchers.

  • In the least healthy counties, 24% of adults smoke and 30% are obese.
  • In the healthiest counties, 16% of adults smoke and 23% are obese.

However, alcohol consumption did not indicate a county's overall health. The healthiest counties had a higher rate of excessive drinking at 17%, compared to the least healthy counties at 15%.

Case study: How two counties, just 100 miles apart, differ dramatically

Using the report's interactive online map, individuals can determine where their county ranks in each state.

For example, the map shows that California's healthiest residents live in Marin County, where 10% of adults smoke and only 15% are considered obese. (According to the report, 25% of residents in the county—which is near the state's famed wine country—drink excessively, as well.) The county also boasts one PCP for every 712 residents, and only 12% of the population is uninsured.

Meanwhile, California's least healthy residents reside in Lake County, where 23% of the adults smoke and 27% are obese; about 20% of residents are uninsured. There is also only one PCP for every 1,799 residents in Lake County—a PCP-to-resident ratio that is less than half of the ratio in Marin County. The two counties are only 100 miles apart (Preidt, HealthDay, 3/20; Barr, Modern Healthcare, 3/20 [subscription required]).

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