The Widest Gap: Health

Your county has had a health check-up (thanks to a division of the University of Wisconsin). So, how are "you"? By the way, 84% of the least healthy counties are rural.

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“One of the greatest disparities in this country is that some places are healthy, but others are not,” announces a new report from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. 

Researchers at the university have compiled a long list of factors measuring health in every U.S. county. They count how long people live, what percentage of the population is obese, how many people use tobacco. Are there grocery stores nearby? Doctors? Hospitals? Is the air clean and are the roads safe?

The measurements aren’t good for comparing counties across state lines. (Different states collect data in different ways.) But the data collected in the County Health Rankings project is great for comparing the overall health of counties within states. (Go here to find your county’s health ranking.) 

The map above shows the five most and least healthy counties in each state. Healthy counties are in green and unhealthy counties are in red. (On the next page, you can find a chart showing the healthiest and least healthy counties in each state.)

County Health Rankings finds that rural counties generally are less healthy than urban ones. “Healthier counties are urban/suburban, whereas least healthy counties are mostly rural,” the researchers found. “About half (48%) of the 50 healthiest counties are urban or suburban counties, whereas most (84%) of the 50 least healthy counties are rural.” (See chart below.)

County Health Rankings
This chart shows the distribution of the five healthiest and least healthy counties in each state. Most healthy counties are urban. Least healthy counties are largely rural.

The next chart (below) compares the most and least healthy counties. The rate of premature death was two and half times higher in the least healthy counties than in healthiest communities. And the percentage of children in poverty in unhealthy counties was three and a half times that of the healthiest counties.

County Health Rankings
This chart shows the differences between the most and least healthy counties.

Finally, the County Health Rankings lists the healthiest and least healthy counties in every state. Forty-two of the 50 least healthy counties are rural. Nineteen of the 50 most healthy counties are rural.

The largest group of healthy counties came from the suburbs. Twenty-three of the most healthy counties on the list are found on the fringe of major metropolitan areas.

(The Wisconsin group has multiple measures of geography. We counted counties as rural if they were “noncore,” which are rural under any definition, and “micropolitan,” which are counties with cities smaller than 50,000.)

Here’s the chart:

County Health Rankings
This chart shows the healthiest and least healthy county in each state.

 

 

Topics: Health
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