February 17th, 2010
04:18 PM ET
By Miriam Falco
WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN) If you live in Vermont and read the paper last November, you may have gleefully seen that your state edged out Minnesota as the healthiest state in the union, according to the 2009 ranking of healthiest states by the United Health Foundation, a non-profit health advocacy group funded by the insurance giant United Healthcare.
But if you live in the upper Northeast part of the state, in Essex County, Vermont, you may not be so thrilled about a new report released today because it says you live in the unhealthiest county in your state.
On the other hand, if you live in DeSoto County, Mississippi, you live in the healthiest county of the unhealthiest state.
This is all part of the report that ranks the overall health of all 50 states, from healthiest to least healthy, courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They’re calling this report, “the first annual checkup for every county in the nation.”
Pat Remington, associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and lead author of this new report, says what this report does is – by summarizing the overall health of a community –allows residents to know how healthy their county is and how it compares with neighboring counties.
Researchers ranked states based health outcomes, which they describe as on how long people lived (mortality) and how well they feel while they are alive (morbidity).
They also ranked them according to health factors, such as smoking and obesity; health care access and quality; unemployment; how many children live in poverty; air pollution and how much access there is to healthy foods.
If you look at their map of the United States showing the five healthiest and unhealthiest counties in each state, it may surprise you that they are often side-by-side. For example, according to the report, Chester County is the healthiest in Pennsylvania, but neighboring Delaware and Philadelphia Counties rank 36th and last in the state.
Remington and his colleagues hope the new report will change the landscape.
“It really is a call to action, not just for public health officials” says Remington, “it’s a call for action for educators, employers, community organizers to come to the table and start working together to improve the health of an entire community.”
Remington says after Juneau County, Wisconsin, was ranked unhealthiest in the state, the first response was anger and denial – but pretty quickly, rather than acceptance, the communities got motivated to make things better. Local health officials decided to add community access to health care, so everybody could be seen by a doctor. They also opened a free dental clinic and doctors started handing out books to improve literacy. Remington says these are just some examples of how a community can come together to make things better.
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