County Health Rankings Show What Influences Residents’ Health

Reading time: 3 – 5 minutes

The 2012 County Health Rankings were released this week [1]. Now in their third year, the Rankings are increasingly being used by community leaders to help them identify health challenges, take action and improve the health of their residents.

2012 County Rankings

The Rankings are published on-line every year by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Using a standard way to measure how healthy people are and how long they live, the Rankings assess the overall health of nearly every county in all 50 states.

The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program helps communities create solutions that make it easier for people to be healthy in their own communities, focusing on specific factors known to affect health, such as education and income. The Rankings consider factors that affect people’s health within four categories:

  1. health behavior
  2. clinical care
  3. social and economic factors
  4. physical environment

This year’s Rankings include several new measures, such as how many fast food restaurants are in a county and levels of physical activity among residents. Graphs illustrating premature death trends over 10 years are new as well. Indeed, where you live matters to your health.

According to Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the RWJF [1]:

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. The good news is that businesses, health care providers, government, consumers and community leaders are already joining forces in communities across the nation to change some of the gaps that the Rankings highlight.

Some factors that influence health — smoking, availability of primary care physicians, and social support — show highs and lows across all U.S. regions. Other factors reflect some distinct regional patterns:

  • Excessive drinking rates are highest in the northern states
  • Rates of teen births, sexually transmitted infections, and children in poverty are highest across 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 County Health Rankings are based on the latest publicly-available data for each county and are unique local tools that every county can use to measure where its residents stand on multiple factors that influence health compared to other counties in their state. Residents also can see how their county measures up on indicators like diabetes screening by comparing their county’s rank against a national benchmark reflecting the top performing counties in the United States. This year, the Rankings are easier to use than ever, with a new interactive mapping feature available at


  1. Healthiest and Least Healthy Counties Ranked in Every State 2012 County Health Rankings Show What Influences How Healthy Residents Are, How Long They Live. County Health Rankings & Roadmaps press release. 2012 Apr 3.
About the Author

Walter Jessen is a senior writer for Highlight HEALTH Media.