UW Population Health Institute Releases County Health Rankings

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Madison, Wis., and Princeton, N.J. - Where we live matters to our health.

A first-of-its-kind report by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlights this fact. The County Health Rankings, a collection of 50 reports - one per state - ranks all counties within each state on their overall health.

The report, new in 49 states, is well-known in Wisconsin. It was here that the Population Health Institute, which is part of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, developed the County Health Rankings in 2003 and has ranked counties each year since. The Rankings serve as a call to action and help community leaders identify factors that make residents unhealthy and mobilize communities to develop solutions.


"The Rankings help policy-makers understand that a local jurisdiction's overall health isn't determined only by access to health care and individual health behaviors, but also, crucially, by the overall socioeconomic and physical environment in which people live," said Bevan K. Baker, commissioner of health, City of Milwaukee Health Department.


The 2010 County Health Rankings rank the overall health of the counties in all 50 states - more than 3,000 total - by using a standard formula. The Rankings show how counties measure up within each state in terms of how healthy people are, how long they live, and how important factors affect their health, such as tobacco use, obesity, access to health care, education, community safety, and air quality. For the first time, every county in every state across the country will be able to compare the many factors that influence health.


"This report shows us that there are big differences in overall health across counties, due to many factors, ranging from individual behavior to quality of health care, to education and jobs, to access to healthy foods, and to quality of the air," said Dr. Patrick Remington, associate dean for public health, in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.


The online report, available at http://www.countyhealthrankings.org includes a snapshot of each county in each state with a color-coded map comparing each county's overall health ranking. Researchers used five measures to assess the level of overall health or "health outcomes" for each county: the rate of people dying before age 75; the percent of people who report being in fair or poor health; the numbers of days people report being in poor physical and poor mental health; and the rate of low-birthweight infants.


The report then looks at a number of factors that affect people's health within four categories: health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment. Among the many factors considered are rates of adult smoking, adult obesity, number of uninsured adults, number of rates of high school graduation, and access to healthy foods.


"We need individuals and communities to become healthier, to not need as much health care," said Tim Size, Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative executive director. "Grappling with your own county's rankings is a great place to start."


The Rankings also call attention to the fact that there's more to health than health care.

"The County Health Rankings provide a framework for partnerships between medicine and public health - as well as employers, educators, and community organizations - all with a goal to improve the health of the public," said Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

Dr. Susan L. Turney, CEO of the Wisconsin Medical Society, says, "As physicians, caring for people is our top priority. By encouraging our patients to quit smoking, eat healthy, exercise regularly and take medications appropriately, we partner with our patients every day to achieve the best possible health outcomes.

"But many factors outside the exam room - things like education, our environment and access to resources - all contribute to good health," she said. "The County Health Rankings provide a valuable tool for physicians and other key stakeholders to pinpoint areas for improvement and develop strategies for achieving healthier communities."


Employers understand the importance of employee health to every aspect of their business success, said Cheryl DeMars, president and CEO of The Alliance, a not-for-profit, employer-owned cooperative that aims to help employers manage health care dollars while positively impacting their employees' health.

"The County Health Rankings help identify areas where improvement can be made that will favorably impact the health and wellbeing of the current and future workforce," DeMars said.

Date Published: 02/17/2010

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