Habits, not hospitals, affect counties’ health rankings

By SA2020 | Mar 22 2013

Kelly Kennedy, USA TODAY 10:29a.m. EDT March 20, 2013

WASHINGTON — Residents of the nation’s least healthy counties die at twice the rate of those living in their states’ healthiest counties, despite a major improvement in the rate of premature deaths, according to a national survey of county health statistics released Wednesday.

The full implementation next year of the 2010 health care law could improve health statistics overall, experts say, but real change in health statistics can come only if Americans start eating better and exercising more.

Along with the higher death rates in the least healthy counties, researchers from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that:

  • More than one in five children live in poverty.
  • Violent crime has decreased by 50% during the past 20 years.
  • Places with higher death rates have the highest rates of smoking, teen births, physical inactivity and preventable hospital stays.

In general, a state’s healthiest county tends to be in a suburban area characterized by higher-income residents, while the least healthy counties have higher concentrations of poor residents, who often have worse eating and exercise habits. In Ohio, for example, the most healthy county is Geauga, east of Cleveland, while the least healthy is Scioto, a rural county along the Ohio River in the southern part of the state.

Texas’ most healthy county is Williamson, a fast-growing suburban area outside Austin, while the least healthy is Polk, a rural county northeast of Houston. Continue Reading

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