UW-Madison news: Annual rankings rate health of Wisconsin counties

CONTACT: Ian Clark, [email protected], 608-890-5641

MADISON – Ozaukee County ranks healthiest in Wisconsin and Menominee County ranks least healthy, according to the sixth annual County Health Rankings, released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The rankings are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

The rankings are an easy-to-use snapshot comparing the health of nearly every county in the nation. The local-level data allows each state to see how its counties compare on 30 factors that influence health, including education, housing, violent crime, jobs, diet and exercise.

According to the 2015 rankings, the five healthiest counties in Wisconsin, starting with the most healthy, are Ozaukee, Pepin, Calumet, Florence and Kewaunee. The five counties in the poorest health, starting with the least healthy, are Menominee, Milwaukee, Forest, Washburn and Rusk.

“Since the County Health Rankings began in Wisconsin more than a decade ago, we’ve seen them serve as a rallying point for change,” says Karen Timberlake, director of UWPHI in the School of Medicine and Public Health. “Communities are using the rankings to inform their priorities as they work to improve health for all their residents.”

Nationally, this year’s rankings show that the healthiest counties in each state have higher college attendance, fewer preventable hospital stays, and better access to parks and gyms than the least healthy counties. The least healthy counties in each state have more smokers, more teen births and more alcohol-related car crash deaths. This year’s rankings also look at the links between income levels, income distribution and health.

The rankings also reveal:

-Premature death rates are dropping, with 60 percent of the nation’s counties seeing declines. But for many counties, these rates are not improving – 40 percent of counties are not making progress in reducing premature death.

-One out of every four children in the U.S. lives in poverty. Child poverty rates are more than twice as high in the least healthy counties in each state than in the healthiest counties.

-Violent crime rates are highest in the South. Violent crime rates, which affect health, well-being and stress levels, are particularly high in the Southwest, Southeast, and Mississippi Delta regions.

-Having a job influences health. Unemployment rates are 1.5 times higher in the least healthy counties in each state than in the healthiest counties. During the recession, counties in the West, Southeast and Rust Belt regions were hit hardest by growing unemployment. Many, but not all, of these counties have seen their unemployment rates drop since the recession ended in 2010.

“The County Health Rankings have helped galvanize communities across the nation to improve health,” says Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president and CEO. “Solutions and innovation are coming from places as diverse as rural Williamson, West Virginia in the heart of Appalachia to urban New Orleans, which is engaging business, public health, education, parents and young people to build a culture of health.”

The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program offers data, tools and resources to help communities throughout their journey to build a culture of health. Also part of the program is the RWJF Culture of Health Prize, which honors communities that are working together to build a healthier, more vibrant community.