KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

New Database Answers Question: How Healthy Is Your County?

A new database compares the health of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S.

"Looking at each state's best and worst further illuminates a well-known trend: The least healthy counties tend to be poor and rural, and the healthiest ones tend to be urban or suburban and upper-income," The Associated Press reports. The report, co-authored by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, raises "which-came-first questions. Does a poor community negatively influence its residents' health? Or does it become unhealthy because it's where high-risk populations - people who lack health care or are more likely to smoke, for example - can afford to move?" Among the findings: the "least healthy counties have childhood poverty rates more than three times higher than the healthiest counties" and "residents of the least healthy counties are 60 percent more likely to be hospitalized for preventable conditions, a sign of poor primary care" (Neergaard, 2/17).

USA Today: "For the report, researchers cobbled together federal and state health-related data on 3,016 counties in the USA," according to report author Pat Remington, the associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin. "The report ranks each county in two ways: 'Health Outcomes' and 'Health Factors.' Health outcomes are derived from a county's disease and death rates. The health factors rating is more complex, culled from sources that keep tabs on obesity rates, tobacco use and alcohol consumption," as well as unemployment, income and community safety."

"The researchers don't recommend making state-to-state comparisons. The reason: Data collection methods vary by state, says Bridget Booske, project director for the rankings and a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute." USA Today also has a map showing the five healthiest and least healthy counties in each state, as reported in the database (Marcus, 2/17).

County Health Rankings has an interactive map of rankings. 

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