Rethinking Healthcare

Fast food, teen births, uninsured: how healthy is your county?

Fast food, teen births, uninsured: how healthy is your county?

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The latest County Health Rankings are up! With many maps and lots of data, the new online tool let's you see how you stack up in terms air pollution days, crime rate, unemployment, and dozens more.

The latest County Health Rankings are up! Now you can see how your county stacks up against the rest of the state with an online tool comparing health trends in each of the 50 states.

More than 3,000 counties (and Washington DC) are ranked according to a variety of measures, each with its own color coded map.

I. Health Outcomes are based on:

  1. mortality, or length of life (50%): deaths before 75 are considered premature
  2. morbidity, or quality of life (50%): overall health, physical and mental health, and babies born with low birthweight

II. Health Factors are based on weighted scores of 4 meausres:

  1. health behaviors (30%): adult smoking, adult obesity, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, motor vehicle crash death rate, sexually transmitted infections, teen birth rate
  2. clinical care (20%): uninsured, primary care physicians, preventable hospital stays, diabetic screening, mammography screening
  3. social and economic (40%): high school graduation, some college, unemployment, children in poverty, inadequate social support, children in single-parent households, violent crime rate
  4. physical environment (10%): air pollution-particulate matter days, air pollution-ozone days, access to recreational facilities, limited access to healthy foods, fast food restaurants.

Healthier counties have lower rates when it comes to things like smoking, physical inactivity, teen births, preventable hospital stays, unemployment, and violent crime... but they’re no more likely than unhealthy counties to have lower rates of obesity, excessive drinking, or greater access to better food options.

Across the nation, some factors that influence health, such as smoking, availability of primary care physicians, and social support, show highs and lows across all regions. But there are some regional trends:

  • Northern states have the highest rates of excessive drinking.
  • Southern states have the highest rates of children living in poverty, teenage births, and sexually transmitted infections.
  • Unemployment rates are lowest in states in the Northeast, Midwest, and central plains.
  • Deaths from motor vehicle crashes are lowest in the Northeast and upper Midwest.

The rankings are produced by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"Much of what influences our health happens outside of the doctor's office,” RWJF’s Risa Lavizzo-Mourey says in a press release [pdf]. “In fact, where we live, learn, work and play has a big role in determining how healthy we are and how long we live.”

Let’s use California as an example. Pictured above, Marin is the ‘healthiest’ county (lighter is healthier, darker is unhealthier). Snapshots below: fast food restaurants, teen pregnancies, and excessive drinking.

[Via NPR]

Images: County Health Rankings and Roadmaps

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure