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Shots - Health Blog
1:00 pm
Tue April 3, 2012

New Rankings Are County-By-County Health Snapshot

How healthy is your county?

To see how the place where you live stacks up against the rest of the U.S., check out the latest County Health Rankings, an annual report comparing health trends for more than 3,000 counties, plus the District of Columbia.

The rankings are produced by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. You can drill down to look at, among other things, which areas have the highest and lowest education rates and income levels as well access to medical care and healthful foods.

Researchers say healthier counties have lower rates when it comes to things like smoking, physical inactivity, teen births, unemployment and violent crime — but they are no more likely than unhealthy counties to have lower rates of obesity, excessive drinking or greater access to better food options.

"The County Health Rankings show us that much of what influences our health happens outside of the doctor's office. In fact, where we live, learn, work and play has a big role in determining how healthy we are and how long we live," Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of RWJF, says in a press release. (The foundation provides financial support for NPR.)

Check out the map above showing the density of fast-food restaurants. There are 30 counties where 100 percent of the restaurants are fast-food, but in many of these cases there are only one or two restaurants in the county, Dr. Bridget Booske Catlin, deputy director of the study and senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, writes in an email to Shots.

Among counties with more than 10 restaurants, these five counties had the most fast-food places — (in descending order) Scott County in Tennessee, Fayette County in Indiana, Letcher County in Kentucky, Charlton County in Georgia and Sanpete County in Utah. Perhaps not surprisingly, all of these counties were in the bottom half of overall health rankings within their respective states, according to Booske Catlin.

Compare that with this map showing premature death (darker spots indicate a higher incidence) and you can see where there's overlap.

The researchers also found these regional health trends:

  • Northern states have the highest rates of excessive drinking.
  • Southern states have the highest rates of children living in poverty, teenage births, sexually transmitted infections.
  • Unemployment is lowest in states in the Northeast, Midwest and central plains.
  • Deaths from motor vehicle accidents are lowest in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.