Wednesday, March 26, 2014

County health rankings, out today, are a good snapshot and a good place to start local coverage

Example: Arkansas counties by quartiles
The University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute has released its annual county health rankings, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The rankings are twofold: health outcomes, which reflect the length and quality of life; and health factors, which influence the outcomes. The rankings are a good snapshot of a county's health status relative to other counties in the same state, and a good place to start in assessing a county's overall health.

The factor rankings are based 30 percent on health behaviors (tobacco and alcohol use, diet and exercise, sexual activity), 20 percent on clinical care (access to care and quality of care), 40 percent on social and economic factors (education, employment, income, family and social support, community safety) and 10 percent on physical environment (air and water quality and housing and transit).

The factors used in the rankings have changed somewhat over the years, some statistical modeling is involved, and statistical differences among closely ranked counties are so small that they may not be significant. Thus, the rankings should be viewed more as a general categorization of a county's health status than be used to make specific comparisons with counties that are relatively close in the rankings. To emphasize that, the rankings maps group counties in quartiles, or fourths of the whole. Complete results for any county and state can be found here.

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