The 2012 County Health Rankings were released this week, and more than 3,000 counties across the country can compare how healthy their residents are and how long they live.
The rankings, in their third year, are an annual check-up highlighting the healthiest and least healthy counties in every state. Factors that influence health, including education rates, income levels and access to healthy food are noted in the rankings. Community leaders use the rankings to help identify challenges and take action to improve residents' health.
Officials can use the data to create healthy workplace initiatives, employee wellness programs and ways to give residents access to healthy food. Debra Jacobs, director of Wilkin County Public Health, said her agency uses the data to help identify public health issues and concerns, and in turn, develop policies and programs to improve the health of Wilkin County residents.
Summary health outcomes and health factors ratings are based on the latest publicly-available data for each county and are unique local tools that every county can use and compare to other counties in their state. Health outcomes represent how healthy a county is by measuring mortality and morbidity while health factors represent what influences the health of the county — health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment.
A score of one is considered healthiest, with larger numbers representing less healthy rankings. In other words, the lower the number, the better a county is doing.
For the 2012 report, Richland County moved up two notches from the previous year, ranking fifth in health outcomes out of 46 North Dakota counties. Richland County has a ranking of 21 for health factors this year, which is lower than 2011's score of 16.
In Minnesota, Wilkin County received a health outcome ranking of 21 out of 84 counties in the state for 2012, which is one slot higher than it scored last year. Wilkin County received a health factor ranking of 14 this year, which is nine points better than in 2011, when it was ranked at 23.
Although the researchers don't recommend comparing counties in two different states, Wilkin and Richland have similarities in their health factor ratings. For example, under Clinical Care, 10 percent of Wilkin County residents are uninsured, and 11 percent in Richland County are uninsured. Within the Social and Economic Factors category, the unemployment rate in Richland County is at 4.4 percent, and at 4.9 percent in Wilkin County.
Residents can see how their county measures up on indicators such as diabetes screening by comparing their county's rank against a national benchmark representing the top performing counties in the country.
The rankings, published online by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, include several new measures this year, including how many fast food restaurants are in a county and physical inactivity among residents. Premature deaths trends over a 10-year span are illustrated as well.
This year's rankings show distinct regional patterns, including:
• Excessive drinking rates are highest in northern states
• Rates of teen births, sexually transmitted infections, and children in poverty are highest in the southern states
• Unemployment rates are lowest in the northeastern, Midwest and central plains states
• Motor vehicle crash deaths are lowest in the northeastern and upper Midwest states.
The project includes grants to coalitions across the United States that are working to improve the health of residents in their communities, partnerships with policy makers, business, education, public health, health care and community organizations as well as recognition of communities whose efforts have led to better health.
For more information on the rankings, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.