While Krol was reviewing the Appalachian Regional Commission's county-based economic data, which compares economic indicators like poverty and unemployment rates with national averages and then ranks each county, it occurred to him to overlay this county index with the annual County Health Rankings. For the most part, Krol found what he expected, "that the most economically distressed counties in Appalachia would also be in the lowest quartiles of health outcomes and factors for their state."
But the inspiration for this study came from the counties that did not match up, counties that were economically distressed but in the top quartile of their state in health factors and outcomes. "What was it about Wirt County, W.Va.; Pickett County, Tenn.; and Oktibbeha County, Miss., that helped them overcome significant economic challenges towards better health outcomes when similarly distressed counties in the same state did not?" he writes.
"This approach is rooted in the belief that communities have the best solutions to the problems they face—as opposed to solutions driven by outside experts," he writes. It’s an opportunity to “go beyond the data to community conversations about what’s important,” Susan Zepeda, CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, told Krol.
"Quantitative data can get only get us so far—it’s up to us to ask those critical questions of “Why? How? What can be done?” Krol wrote. "It’s up to us to turn data into action." Join a panel of experts for a conversation on what we've learned from the County Health Rankings in an upcoming First Friday Google+ Hangout on April 3rd at 12:15 ET. Register for the Hangout here.