How Healthy Is Your County?

This article is more than 9 years old.
Massachusetts counties ranked by the number of premature deaths. (County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute)
Massachusetts counties ranked by the number of premature deaths. (County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute)

Check out your county's health with this just-released, data-drenched interactive tool that includes a broad range of health measures from 3,000 counties and the District of Columbia.

You can spend hours comparing counties on everything from mortality and binge drinking rates to teen births, motor vehicle crash deaths, access to healthy food and obesity rates. (In Massachusetts, for example, the obesity rate in Barnstable County is 18 percent, compared to 29 percent in Bristol County — though Bristol has a higher ratio of mental health providers — and Middlesex County ranks #1 in the state when it comes to mortality.) There's even a cool health calculator that let's you see how income and education directly impacts the health of a region.

NPR reports on one of the new measures included in this year's rankings: the number of fast-food restaurants by county.

There are 30 counties where 100 percent of the restaurants are fast-food, but in many of these cases there are only one or two restaurants in the county, Dr. Bridget Booske Catlin, deputy director of the study and senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, writes in an email to Shots.

Among counties with more than 10 restaurants, these five counties had the most fast-food places — (in descending order) Scott County in Tennessee, Fayette County in Indiana, Letcher County in Kentucky, Charlton County in Georgia and Sanpete County in Utah. Perhaps not surprisingly, all of these counties were in the bottom half of overall health rankings within their respective states, according to Booske Catlin.

From the County Health Rankings news release:

Published online by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Rankings assess the overall health of nearly every county in all 50 states, using a standard way to measure how healthy people are and how long they live. The Rankings consider factors that affect people’s health within four categories: health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment. This year’s Rankings include several new measures, such as how many fast food restaurants are in a county and levels of physical inactivity among residents. Graphs illustrating premature death trends over 10 years are new as well...

Within each state, even the healthiest counties have areas where they can improve. Healthier counties (those where people live longer and have a better quality of life) have lower rates of smoking, physical inactivity, teen births, preventable hospital stays, unemployment, children in poverty, and violent crime and higher levels of education, social support, and access to primary care physicians. But healthier counties are no more likely than unhealthy counties to have lower rates of excessive drinking or obesity or better access to healthy 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. Meanwhile other factors reflect some distinct regional patterns, such as:

  • Excessive drinking rates are highest in the northern states.
  • Rates of teen births, sexually transmitted infections, and children in poverty are highest across the southern states.
  • Unemployment rates are lowest in the northeastern, Midwest, and central plains states.
  • Motor vehicle crash deaths are lowest in the northeastern and upper Midwest states.

This program aired on April 3, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 




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