Poverty Drags Down Rural Health Rankings
[imgbelt img=rural-rankings-health.png]The nation’s smallest counties scored at the bottom of the heap in 18 of 34 measurements used to rank the health of U.S. counties. The suburbs of major cities had the best rankings, according to the annual study.
[imgcontainer][img: top-10-percent.jpg][source] County Health Rankings and RoadmapsThe map highlights the healthiest and least healthy counties as ranked in each state. Suburbs in metro areas of a million or more residents tended to rank best in the study. Nonmetro counties (including noncore and micropolitan counties) tended to rank worst. Click the map for an expanded view.
The nation’s most rural areas rank dead last in a majority of the measurements used to evaluate the health status of U.S. counties, researchers say.
The findings are part of a study sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that ranks counties by a broad set of health and well-being indicators.
“Noncore” counties, which are located outside metro areas and have no towns of 10,000 residents or more, were last in 18 of 34 measurements used in the study. That’s the worst record of any group of counties when they are sorted by urban-rural status.
The geographic area with the next highest number of last-place rankings was major urban counties (big cities of a million residents and up), with 10. But those counties offset their low marks by ranking first in 14 other categories.
In contrast, noncore counties ranked best in only two categories. They had less violent crime and fewer housing problems.
The counties with the overall best health rankings were located in “suburban metro” areas, which the study defined as counties located outside large cities.
The rankings’ methodology takes into account the availability of medical resources such as physicians and dentists. It also weighs economic, social and environmental factors such as poverty rates, access to exercise facilities, education levels and unemployment.
“The one [health criterion] people don’t think of is poverty,” said study director Bridget B. Catlin with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. “They think of poor inner city communities, and there’s not enough recognition of the role of poverty in affecting the health of people in rural areas.”
Wayne Myers, M.D., a rural health advocate and former director of the federal Office of Rural Health Policy, agreed.
“I don’t think we understand too much about how the day-to-day stress of living takes a toll on the bodies of poor people,” he said. “The stress runs up blood pressure, it makes blood sugars higher. It does take a toll on health.”