Unhealthy Counties Have More Than Twice the Rate of Premature Deaths Than Healthy Ones; Childhood Poverty Rates Twice As High In Unhealthy Counties

Press Release, March 20, 2013

Princeton, N.J. and Madison, Wis - A new report released March 20, 2013 examines the health and well being of people living in nearly every county in the United States, and finds that rates of premature deaths are at the lowest level in 20 years. Nevertheless, people in the unhealthiest counties are dying too early at more than twice the rates of those in the healthiest counties.

The 2013 County Health Rankings rely on a robust set of data and analysis that allows counties to see what it is that is making residents sick or healthy, and how they compare to other counties in the same state. This is the fourth year of the Rankings, published online at www.countyhealthrankings.org by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI). The Rankings data helps to lay the groundwork for health improvement efforts of governors, mayors, business leaders, and citizens across the country.

The County Health Rankings show that how long and how well people live depends on multiple factors beyond just their access to medical care. It examines 25 factors that influence health, including rates of childhood poverty, rates of 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 within a state, this year's Rankings show significant new national trends:

  • 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 don't live as long and don't feel as well mentally or physically have the highest rates of smoking, teen births, and physical inactivity, as well as more preventable hospital stays.
  • Teen birth rates are more than twice as high in the least healthy counties than in the healthiest counties.
  • Access to health care remains an important factor and this year, the Rankings include residents' access to dentists, as well as primary care doctors. Residents living in healthier counties are 1.4 times more likely to have access to a doctor and dentist than those in the least healthy counties.

The Rankings are one facet of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, which supports communities working to improve health. RWJF just awarded six communities the RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize for their trailblazing strategies to create a culture of health. The call for applications for the 2014 RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize is available at www.rwjf.org/goto/prize and www.countyhealthrankings.org.

"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."

The Rankings are based on the latest publically available data for each county and serve as a unique local tool. This year, the Rankings are easier to use than ever with interactive maps and new county-level trend graphs detailing changes over time for several measures, including children in poverty, unemployment, and quality of care.

"We all have a stake in creating a healthier community and no single sector alone can tackle the health challenges in any given community," said Patrick Remington, MD, MPH, professor and associate dean at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. "Collaboration is critical. The Rankings are sparking action all over the country as people from all sectors join forces to create new possibilities in health— county by county."

The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps website, www.countyhealthrankings.org, also includes What Works for Health, which shows the policies and programs that work best to improve health. The website's Action Center offers access to free personalized assistance to places that need guidance on what steps to take to make their communities healthier places to live, learn, work, and play.

Follow the County Health Rankings on Twitter (@CHRankings) or Facebook, and join the conversation by using #healthrankings.


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