New Report Ranks U.S. Health by County. Where Do You Live?

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A comprehensive survey of overall health county-by-county in the U.S. confirms a few things we already know to be true: being poor is bad for your health. So is having low education, not having a job and having less access to grocery stores and farmer’s markets for fresh food.

The County Health Rankings report, available online, ranks the health of more than 3,000 counties based on a wide variety of social, physical and environmental measures including but not limited to: adult smoking and obesity, premature death, numbers of uninsured, violent crime, car accident deaths, single parenthood, mammography screening rate, sexually transmitted disease, air pollution, numbers of low-birthweight babies born, income and education. (More on America’s 15 Most Active Cities)

The researchers found that compared to healthy counties, the unhealthiest counties in the country had a few things in common:

• significantly lower high school graduation rates
• more than twice as many children living below the poverty line
• fewer grocery stores and farmer’s markets (which means more reliance on high-fat, high-calorie convenience food)
• high rates of unemployment

“It’s hard to lead a healthy life if you don’t live in a healthy community,” Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), which collaborated with the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute on the report, said in a statement. “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.”

The report’s media release highlights the actions of one outstanding local government in low-ranking Wyandotte County, Kansas, which launched a Healthy Communities initiative. But more counties need to get on board. To help, the RWJF is giving out 14 grants to local governments that would like to set up health improvement programs. (More on How Stress and Sleep Conspire to Make You Fat)

In the meantime, people can do a lot to improve their own health and minimize the influence of unhealthy factors in the environment. Quit smoking, practice safe sex and dedicate some time for going on a walk each day. For more tips or to look up your county’s rank, see the comprehensive project here.

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