Blog | Wednesday, March 30, 2011

QD: News Every Day--Online tools show how communities influence health, lifespan

Two websites show how much that education, jobs, income and environment play in health and longevity for every county in America. The two sites show how much what goes on outside the doctor's office influences the types of encounters likely to be found inside it.

The County Health Rankings compare the overall health of counties against others in the state, and also compare performance on specific health factors against national benchmarks of top-performing counties.

Published by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the rankings look at factors that affect the rate of people dying before age 75, high school graduation rates, access to healthier foods, air pollution levels, income, and rates of smoking, obesity and teen births. Users can compare how their county performs in areas such as diabetes screening rates or number of uninsured adults to national benchmarks. A second site, the County Health Calculator, by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Virginia Commonwealth University's Center on Human Needs, shows how much higher levels of education and income influence premature death rates.

Not surprisingly, people are nearly twice as likely to be in fair or poor health in the unhealthiest counties. The unhealthiest counties have lower high school graduation rates, more than twice as many children living in poverty, fewer grocery stores or farmer's markets, much higher unemployment rates.

"It's hard to lead a healthy life if you don't live in a healthy community," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MACP, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "The County Health Rankings are an annual check-up for communities to know how healthy they are and where they can improve. We hope that policymakers, businesses, educators, public health departments and community residents will use the rankings to develop solutions to help people live healthier lives."