Each year the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issues its County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, with the goal of building a Culture of Health – county by county. This provides reliable and specific data that helps communities identify their unique health needs (a particularly invaluable tool for grant writers!).
From the 10,000 foot view, the 2016 Rankings reveal significant differences between rural and urban counties, including higher rates of smoking, obesity, child poverty, teen births, uninsured adults, and premature death in rural counties. This year’s report also highlights the impact of residential segregation between African-Americans and Whites, a primary cause of health disparities that is most prominent in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions. In addition, the data supports critical concern over the continued rise in U.S. deaths from drug overdoses (the death rate from drug overdose has increased 79 percent since 2002).
On a more specific level, RWJF ranks each county in the nation by both their “Health Outcomes” and their “Health Factors.” What’s the difference? A Health Outcome ranking represents how healthy a county is based on how long people live (length of life) and how healthy people feel during their life (quality of life). Health Factors are all those things that influence the health of a county, including behaviors, clinical care, social and economic characteristics, and physical environments.
Most notably, the County Health Rankings are incredibly insightful for measuring progress – or lack thereof. In fact, RWJF also issues State Health Gap Reports to unveil the contributing factors of disparities across counties in a state. For example, in Indiana, a disproportionate amount of smokers, obese adults, uninsured persons, preventable hospital stays, unemployment, child poverty and violent crimes drive health differences across the state. North Carolina health disparities are linked to low high school graduation rates as well as high rates of smoking and children in single-parent households.
What we do with this information is what Words for Good is all about…in each of our projects, we focus on proposing resources to be used where they can do the most good. Click here to see how your state and county stacks up.