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New online report shows health rankings by state and county

Unhealthy counties have more than twice the rate of premature deaths than healthy ones

By Diana Manos, Senior Editor

A new report released Wednesday 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, according to the 2013 Health Rankings, published by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The report relies 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,” according to a news release issued by the researchers. This is the fourth year of the rankings, published online by RWJF and the University of Wisconsin. The report data helps to lay the groundwork for health improvement efforts of governors, mayors, business leaders and citizens across the country, the groups say.

People are looking for a written report, says a spokeswoman for the organizations, “but the online interactive tool is the report.”

“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 Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, 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.”

Although the report only allows for county-to-county comparisons within a state, this year’s rankings show significant new national trends, including:

  • 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 healthcare remains an important factor and this year, the report 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.

Patrick Remington, MD, professor and associate dean at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health says 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.”