Princeton, N.J. and Madison, Wis.—The 2015 County Health Rankings released today, show that premature deaths are dropping, with 60 percent of the nation’s counties seeing declines. For instance, in the District of Columbia premature death rates have plummeted by nearly one-third based on data from 2004-2006 and 2010-2012. This marks the highest drop in the country for counties with populations of 65,000 or more. But for many counties these rates are not improving—forty percent of counties are not making progress in reducing premature deaths.
A rich resource of local-level data, the Rankings are an easy-to-use snapshot comparing the health of nearly every county in the nation. A collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, the Rankings allow each state to see how its counties compare on 30 factors that impact health, including education, transportation, housing, violent crime, jobs, diet and exercise. The Rankings are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org.
This year’s Rankings show that almost one out of four children in the U.S. lives in poverty. Child poverty rates are more than twice as high in the unhealthiest counties in each state than in the healthiest counties. The report also looks at distribution in income and the links between income levels and health.
“The County Health Rankings have helped galvanize communities across the nation to improve health,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, RWJF president and CEO. “Solutions and innovation are coming from places as diverse as rural Williamson, West Virginia in the heart of Appalachia to urban New Orleans; they are engaging business, public health, education, parents, and young people to build a Culture of Health.”
Beyond poverty and income inequality, the 2015 County Health Rankings Key Findings Report highlights two other key social and economic factors that drive health: violent crime and employment. These findings show that:
- Violent Crime Rates are Highest in the South: Violent crime rates, which affect health, well-being, and stress levels, are highest in the Southwest, Southeast, and Mississippi Delta regions.
- Having a Job Influences Health: Unemployment rates are 1.5 times higher in the least healthy counties in each state as they are in the healthiest counties. During the recession, counties in the West, Southeast, and rust belt region of the U.S. were hit hardest by growing unemployment. Many, but not all, of these counties have seen their unemployment rates drop since the recession ended in 2010.
This year’s Rankings data also shines a light on the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy counties. The healthiest counties in each state have higher college attendance, fewer preventable hospital stays, and better access to parks and gyms. The least healthy counties in each state have more smokers, more teen births, and more alcohol related car crashes.
“In the six years since the County Health Rankings began, we’ve seen them serve as a rallying point for change. Communities are using the Rankings to inform their priorities as they work to build a Culture of Health,” said Bridget Catlin, PhD, MHSA, co-director of the County Health Rankings.
The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program offers data, tools, and resources to help communities throughout their journey to build a Culture of Health. Also part of the program is the RWJF Culture of Health Prize which honors communities that are working together to build a healthier, more vibrant community.