Ranking the Healthiest Counties for Kids

Jun 13, 2013, 4:43 PM, Posted by

Students holding up signs at a lunch table.

Let’s say you’re moving your family to a new community.  Could be a job opportunity or life change.  When it comes to health, should you be thinking about the quality of hospital care for your kids?  Or, whether the community you’re going to is a healthy place for kids to grow up and thrive?

Well, both matter, but until recently, the things that lead to better health—and perhaps keep kids from going to the hospital in the first place—have received less attention.  But we are beginning to see a dynamic shift from emphasis on sick care to prevention and wellness.  A good example is this week’s US News & World Report ranking of “America’s 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids”. These are the folks who give us report cards on colleges, hospitals and best places to retire. Released as part of their “Best Children’s Hospitals” annual report, the article emphasizes important factors that lead to better health, or not, in the places where we live and raise our families. Things like how many kids are living in poverty, teen birth rates, infant deaths and injuries.

At RWJF, we know a lot about using rankings as a way to shine a spotlight on what matters most to keep ourselves and families healthy and make our communities healthier places to live, learn, work and play.  We’ve been releasing the County Health Rankings in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute since 2010. We followed those with grants in communities across the nation, and just this past February announced our first six RWJF Culture of Health Prize winners.  Together the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps have ignited a new dialogue on health and generated real, measurable action in communities—from partnerships with local banks turning unused land into a community park to incentives for grocery stores to locate in food deserts so folks have easy access to nutritious food.  So it wasn’t a surprise when US News came to us for help in developing their “Healthiest Counties for Kids” rankings.

We helped the magazine’s staff dive into the data, examine the factors that most contribute to good or poor health for kids and analyze how it all lined up with our data for more than 3,000 U.S. counties.  As gratifying to us, however, is the new story that is unfolding; a seismic shift in thinking.  Steve Sternberg, deputy health rankings editor at US News, explained it to me this way:

We’ve been doing these hospital rankings for years, but asked ourselves a new question.  ‘Who wants to take their kid to the hospital?  No one, really.  So why not flip this around and look at ways we can keep our kids healthy and prevent hospital care.

It’s a story that Sternberg and the editorial team at US News recognized in the County Health Rankings—which help mayors, county commissioners, faith and civic leaders, businesses, public health and everyday citizens see how they are doing at getting to better health and where they can improve. So how is your county doing?  Check it out at www.countyhealthrankings.org.  Once there, you find tools on “What Works” and “What You Can Do.”  Get engaged.  Share your ideas.  Join the movement toward a culture of health.  Who knows, perhaps your community could be an RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize winner and a healthy county for kids.

To find out what's needed in a healthy environment for kids or to share your ideas on this topic, join @USNewsHealth, RWJF Team Director @PaulKuehnert and @CHRankings for a #HealthyKids Twitter chat on Thursday, June 20, 2 p.m. ET.