Tuesday, March 19, 2019

County Health Rankings released; rural counties increasingly struggle with housing, which affects health

Severe housing cost burden among U.S. counties from 2011 to 2015 (County Health Rankings map; click to enlarge)
The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, released its annual County Health Rankings today. The rankings are a good snapshot of each county's health, compared to other in-state counties, and the report has loads of data for every county. Some appear to provide examples of rural community efforts getting results.

For example, Clinton County, in Appalachian Southern Kentucky, moved up 30 notches in health outcomes, to 64th from 94th among Kentucky's 120 counties. "The improvements could be an indication that the efforts of the Clinton County Healthy Hometown Coalition that was created in 2013 are beginning to pay off," Melissa Patrick of Kentucky Health News reports. "The coalition, which was created with the help of a grant from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, has largely focused on efforts to improve the health of the county's children, such as building walking paths and playgrounds as well as working to increase physical activity and nutrition programs in the schools, which banned tobacco."

This year's national rankings report highlighted housing, calling it "an important element that shapes how well and how long we live." Meaningful gaps in health outcomes persist among U.S. counties mostly because of differences in opportunities for health-care access, the report found. Many factors influence that access, including housing:
"Our homes, and those of our neighbors, play a critical role in shaping our health and the health of the whole community. When our homes are near quality schools and good jobs, it’s easier to get a quality education and earn living wages. When people live near grocery stores where nutritious food is available and affordable, eating healthy is easier. Green spaces and parks encourage active lifestyles. By contrast, inside our homes things like lead, mold, smoke, and other toxins can make us sick. And when too much of a paycheck goes toward the rent or mortgage, it makes it hard to afford the doctor, cover utility bills, or maintain reliable transportation to work or school. Owning a home can help build savings, providing stability and wealth over time."
The report notes that people with low incomes and people of color have a harder time finding affordable housing. More than one in 10 households experience severe housing cost burden, which the report defines as paying more than 50 percent of household income on housing.

Though rural counties have the lowest rate of residents for whom housing cost are a severe burden, that's changing: "Since 2006-2010, when a real estate crisis affected more than half of U.S. states, severe-housing-cost burden has decreased in large urban metro counties. However, half of all rural counties experienced an increase in severe housing cost burden since the housing crisis of
2006-2010," the report found.

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