County-by-County Health Rankings Encourage Community Action

By Currie, Donya | The Nation's Health, April 2010 | Go to article overview

County-by-County Health Rankings Encourage Community Action


Currie, Donya, The Nation's Health


IN WHAT is being billed as a new annual checkup for every county in the nation, a new report featuring county-by-county health rankings is expected to spur everyone from policy-makers to the public to workers to improve every community's health.

The new County Health Rankings, released in February by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, "will get people talking," APHA member Patrick Remington, MD, MPH, associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, told The Nation's Health.

"Our hope is that it will spur discussion that happens on an ongoing basis," Remington said.

The rankings include measures such as overall health and how long people live as well as factors such as cigarette smoking, obesity, binge drinking and access to primary care providers. They also include indicators some people might not initially tie to health outcomes, including rates of violent crime, air pollution levels, liquor store density, unemployment rates and number of children living in poverty.

"We believe that what these rankings do is provide a snapshot to every single county to see how it's doing and to therefore send the message that health is everyone's business," Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President and CEO Risa Lavizzo Mourey, MD, MBA, told The Nation's Health. "We think that by showing the factors that are influencing the health rankings in a county, every county can find an area they can improve on and get to work on those areas. It has the strong potential and power to help communities and counties improve what kind of health they have."

The new rankings are not the first to document county-by-county health. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has provided data through its Community Health Status Indicators program since 2000. While both reports

use some of the same data sources, the Community Health Status Indicators go much more in depth for those wanting a bigger picture of a community's health, said Remington and Ron Bialek, MPP, president of the Public Health Foundation, which works with HHS on the Community Health Status Indicators.

"We like to say that 'Community Health Status Indicators tell a story of a community's health,'" Bialek told The Nation's Health." This story then begins a conversation about what the community can do to learn more about its health and take action to make improvements. …

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