How Healthy is Your County? County Health Rankings 2013

Mar 19, 2013, 5:09 PM

How healthy is your county? Answers are out today in the 2013 County Health Rankings, which examine the health and well-being of people living in nearly every county in the United States and show that how long and well people live depends on multiple factors beyond just their access to medical care. The Rankings allow counties to see what’s making residents sick or healthy and how they compare to other counties in the same state. The County Health Rankings, now in its fourth year, is a joint project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

“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 Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, RWJF president and CEO. “The Rankings are driving innovation, unleashing creativity, and inspiring big changes to improve health in communities large and small throughout the country.”

2013 County Health Rankings infographic 2013 County Health Rankings infographic

The Rankings examine 25 factors that influence health, including rates of childhood poverty and smoking, obesity levels, teen birth rates, access to physicians and dentists, rates of high school graduation and college attendance, access to healthy foods, levels of physical inactivity, and percentages of children living in single parent households. 

Although the Rankings only allow for county-to-county comparisons of ranks within a state, this year’s Rankings show significant new national trends:

  • While rates of premature death are at the lowest level in 20 years, the unhealthiest counties still have people dying too early at rates more than twice that of the healthiest counties.
  • Child poverty rates have not improved since 2000, with more than one in five children living in poverty.
  • Violent crime has decreased by almost 50 percent over the past two decades.
  • The counties where people die too early and don’t feel well either mentally or physically have the highest rates of smoking, teen births, and physical inactivity, and more frequent stays in the hospital that could have been prevented.
  • Teen birth rates are more than twice as high in the least healthy counties than in the healthiest counties.

The Rankings are one facet of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program. The Roadmaps project supports communities working to improve health.  Last month, RWJF awarded six communities the inaugural RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize for their innovative strategies to create a culture of health by partnering across sectors in their communities. The call for applications for the 2014 RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize is also being released today.   

It’s well worth sharing stories of two communities who are moving the needle on health improvements for their citizens:

  • In Mason County, Wash.—which ranked 33 out of 39 counties in the state in the 2013 County Health Rankings—a diverse group of partners has come together to boost the community’s educational goals and attainment. Low rates of college attendance and the struggle many young people face in finding employment, helped prompt an innovative program, Mason Matters, to improve educational attainment in the county by removing non-academic barriers to learning such as unstable housing, food insecurity, and poor health care. Mason Matters partners with all seven public school districts in the county and introduces its Career and College Readiness curriculum to students as early as 4th grade to get students excited about pursuing a career early on. Local businesses support the effort as well. Last year, Mason Matters received a Roadmaps to Health Community Grant from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps project.
  • New Orleans, La., was one of the six communities to receive a 2013 RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize this year. Community health improvement is embedded in rebuilding projects across the city as New Orleans continues to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina six years ago. Among the projects that gained New Orleans its prize is Fit NOLA whose goal is to make New Orleans one of the fittest cities in America by its 300th anniversary in 2018. Strategies to reach that goal include improving access to healthy food and increased opportunities for physical activity. East New Orleans, for example, which was deluged by water in the hurricane and saw many residents leave the area, is now home to athletic fields, a rebuilt hospital, supermarkets stocked with healthy foods and a playground that’s typically packed with kids at play. Read more about New Orleans efforts to “build back better.”  

>>Bonus Links: Follow the County Health Rankings on Twitter (@CHRankings) or Facebook, and join the conversation by using #healthrankings. To mark the launch of the 2013 County Health Rankings, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will be taking questions and leading a group discussion via Twitter on March 20, from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

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