How Healthy Is Your County?

Finally, after years of settling regional disputes with high school football, a new study has come out that could give some scientific grounding to your “I live in a better county” argument.

The folks at the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced today the launch of County Health Rankings, which sorts out the health issues plaguing each county in all of the 50 states.

Using five factors — (1) The rate of people dying before age 75; (2) The percentage of people who reported being in fair or poor health; (3) The number of days people reported being in poor physical health; (4) Number of days in poor mental health; (5) The rate of low-birth weight infants — the researchers determined the level of overall health or “health outcomes” by county.

Digging deeper, they then investigated four factors directly affecting people’s health: (1) Health behaviors; (2) Clinical care; (3) Social and economic factors; (4) Physical environment.

The counties are then ranked within each state on key factors like life expectancy, smoking, obesity, binge drinking, access to primary care providers, rates of high school graduation, rates of violent crime, air pollution levels, liquor store density, unemployment rates and number of children living in poverty.

“For the first time, people have a tool to help identify what is making people in every county unhealthy,” said Patrick Remington, M.D., M.P.H., associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “We hope this kind of check-up will mobilize community leaders to take action and invest in programs and policy changes that make their counties healthier places to live.”

Not surprisingly, the healthiest areas are also the wealthiest areas. For example, Philadelphia County in Pennsylvania ranked last out of all 67 counties in the state, but the state’s healthiest county, Chester County, is only a few miles drive to the west. Also, three of the four counties that abut Philadelphia also rank in the top 10.

As reported earlier this week, there is a boom in new medical schools that some hope will help to provide medical care to the poorer urban and rural areas where quality physicians are at a premium.

Go to County Health Rankings to see where your area stacks up.