Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Annual county health rankings are released; rural counties continue to lag; check on yours

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute today released the annual County Health Rankings. The rankings are a good resource for assessing a county's overall health status and for comparing counties within the same state. "The rankings look at many interconnected factors that influence community health including education, jobs, smoking, physical inactivity and access to health care," Donald Schwarz reports for the foundation. "This year, we added a new measure on residential segregation to help communities see where disparities may cluster because some neighborhoods or areas have been cut off from opportunities and investments that fuel good health."

Counties are ranked relative to the health of other counties in the same state and are based on eight factors: overall health outcomes; length of life, quality of life; overall health factors; health behaviors; clinical care; social and economic factors; and physical environment, states the report. "The overall health outcomes summary score is a weighted composite of length of life (50 percent) and quality of life (50 percent). The overall health factors summary score is a weighted composite of four components: health behaviors (30 percent), clinical care (20 percent), social and economic factors (40 percent), and physical environment (10 percent). The component weights for Health Outcomes and Health Factors each add to 100 percent."

Rural areas didn't score well in this year's rankings, receiving high scores in areas such as tobacco use, teen births and preventable hospital stays, Sarah Hedgecock reports for Forbes. Schwarz told her, “The lack of improvement in health in rural counties while other counties have shown improvement over the last almost two decades was shocking to see." (Click on chart for larger, clearer version)
One measure in which rural areas did poorly was premature death, with those rates worsening in one of out of every five rural counties, Hedgecock writes. Bridget Catlin, a senior scientist at the Population Health Institute and author of the report, told her, “There really is no one single factor that is contributing to the situation in rural counties. It’s not just access to health care." To search the rankings by state, click here.

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