‘A Starting Point for Change’: Fifth Edition of the County Health Rankings Released Today

Mar 26, 2014, 11:00 AM

The fifth edition of the County Health Rankings, released today, continues to show that where we live matters to our health. The 2014 edition of the County Health Rankings finds that large gaps remain between the least healthy and the healthiest counties.

>>View the webcast of the 12:30 p.m. ET release of the new rankings here.

The County Health Rankings, first released in 2010, are a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University Of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. They allow each state to see how its counties compare on 29 factors that impact health, including smoking, high school graduation rates, unemployment, physical inactivity and access to healthy foods.

What makes a community healthy or unhealthy? Go behind the County Health Rankings to find out.

 “The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s vision for a culture of health is one where everyone has the opportunity to be healthy,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, RWJF president and CEO. “The County Health Rankings are a starting point for change, helping communities come together, identify priorities and create solutions that will help all in our diverse society live healthier lives now and for generations to come.”

This year’s County Health Rankings report shows some important trends, including:

  • Teen birth rates have decreased about 25 percent since 2007.
  • The rate of preventable hospital stays decreased about 20 percent from 2003 to 2011.
  • Smoking rates dropped from 21 percent in 2005 to 18 percent in 2012.
  • Completion of at least some college attendance increased slightly from 59 percent in 2005 to 64 percent in 2012.

This year’s report also features several new measures:

  • Housing: Almost 1 in 5 households are overcrowded, pose a severe cost burden, or lack adequate facilities to cook, clean, or bathe. These problems are greatest on the East and West coasts, in Alaska, and in parts of the South.
  • Transportation: More than three-quarters of workers drive to work alone and among them 33 percent drive longer than a half hour each way. Driving contributes to physical inactivity, obesity and air pollution.
  • Food Environment: People in many parts of the country face food insecurity (or the threat of hunger) and limited access to healthy foods, especially in counties in the Southwest, across parts of the South and in the Western United States.
  • Mental Health: Amid growing attention to mental health care, the availability of mental health providers in the healthiest counties in each state is 1.3 times higher than in the least healthy counties. The west and northeast regions of the country have the best access to mental health providers.
  • Injury-Related Deaths: The third-leading cause of death in the United States, injury death rates are 1.7 times higher in the least healthy counties than in the healthiest counties. These rates are particularly high in the Southwest, part of the Northwest (including Alaska) and in the East South Central and Appalachian regions.
  • Exercise Opportunities: Access to parks or recreational facilities in the healthiest counties is 1.4 times higher than in the least healthy counties.

“The County Health Rankings show us how health is influenced by our everyday surroundings—where we live, learn, work and play,” said Bridget Caitlin, PhD, MHSA, director of the County Health Rankings. The County Health Rankings often provide the spark for business, community planners, policy-makers, public health, parents and others to work together for better health.”

>>Bonus Links:

  • The County Health Rankings is part of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, which includes the Roadmaps to Health Action Center which provides local leaders with tools, guides and stories to help communities identify and implement solutions that make it easier for people to live healthy lives
  • The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps also includes the annual RWJF Culture of Health Prize, which celebrates communities that are harnessing the collective power of leaders, partners and stakeholders to build cultures of health.

The 2014 RWJF Culture of Health Prize winners and the call for 2014-2015 prize applications will be announced in June at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Spotlight: Health.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.