While Americans overall are living longer and healthier lives, large gaps remain between the healthiest and least healthy counties, a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute finds.
Now in its fifth edition, the 2014 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps ranked counties by health outcomes — length and quality of life — as well as twenty-nine health factors, which this year included new measures for housing, injury-related deaths, mental health, opportunities for exercise, and access to healthy foods. According to the 2014 Rankings Key Findings Report (12 pages, PDF), the counties with the worst health outcomes have twice the rates of premature death, twice as many teen births, and twice as many children living in poverty as the counties with the best outcomes. The study also found that the healthiest counties offer better access to healthy foods, facilities for exercise, primary care physicians, and mental health providers, while the least healthy counties have higher rates of unemployment, violent crime, physical inactivity, and inadequate housing.
In addition, the study found that national rates of teen births, preventable hospital stays, smoking, physical activity, and violent crime have declined in recent years, while the percentage of people who completed at least some college has increased slightly. On a less positive note, the study found that the child poverty rate rose from 18 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2012.
"The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's vision for a culture of health is one where everyone has the opportunity to be healthy," said RWJF president and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey. "The County Health Rankings are a starting point for change, helping communities come together, identify priorities, and create solutions that will help all in our diverse society live healthier lives, now and for generations to come."