County Health Rankings by Angela Russell


The following is a guest blog post from Angela R. Russell, MS of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.  Ms. Russell, Community Engagement Lead of County Health Rankings, explains how to ensure the health of the individual by planning for the health of entire communities:

Health starts where you live, learn, work and play – January 2012
Leading a healthy lifestyle is easier if you live in a community that has access to healthy foods, safe and accessible bike paths and sidewalks, a good education system, a strong economy, supportive relationships and networks, and quality health care. Unfortunately, there are location-based disparities throughout the nation and many people live in communities where leading a healthy lifestyle is difficult.
The County Health Rankings, released annually by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, illustrates these disparities, provides an annual check-up of the health of counties within each state and shows that where we live, learn, work and play matters to our health.  The 2012 County Health Rankings will be released this Spring.
The County Health Rankings provide two summary ranks for counties within each state: Health Outcomes and Health Factors.  Health Outcomes describe quality of and length of life and represent the current health of a county.  Health Factors describe health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment and represent what influences the future health of the county.
The results of the 2011 County Health Rankings reveal that:
  • Unhealthy counties have significantly lower high school graduation rates;
  • Unhealthy counties have more than twice as many children in poverty;
  • Unhealthy counties have fewer grocery stores or farmers’ markets; and
  • Unhealthy counties have higher rates of violent crime.

Overall, the Rankings tell us three things:

  • Where we live, work, learn and play matters to our health and much of what influences our health occurs outside of the doctor’s office;
  • Where counties are doing well and where there are opportunities for improvement; and
  • Improving the health of a community is a shared responsibility between government, urban planners, health care, philanthropy, education, business, and community leaders and members.  

Taking Action
Imagine a nation where residents in all communities have a good quality of life, have excellent access to quality health care, live in a clean and safe physical environment, and have access to healthy foods.   Working together in a coordinated fashion we can improve the health of our communities throughout the country by building strong economic and educational systems, creating a communities where make the healthy choice is the easier choice, and improving access to healthy foods and recreational facilities.
There are many things that you can do to improve the health of communities including:
  • Learn:  Use the Rankings to learn about what is going well in your community and to identify opportunities for improvement.  All counties throughout the nation have areas where they can improve, even those that are the healthiest.   For example, everyone can work towards decreasing the rate of adult obesity in their communities.


  • Connect and Coordinate:  Identify others in your area working toward the same or similar goal of improved community health.  Connect with others, such as your local public health department, the health care system, your local chamber of commerce, government officials, or your school system, to discuss opportunities for collaboration.


  • Prioritize and Plan:   In coordination with others, determine which community health related area, such as increased physical activity or increased access to healthy foods, to focus on and develop your strategies and action steps.   


  • Act:  Based on your priorities, use the Rankings to create, advocate, or implement policy and program changes that can improve health such as providing more walking paths, increasing the safety of public spaces, working with local farmers to provide fresh produce in your local schools, or conducting a health impact assessment of current developments in your community.


The Rankings shows us that much of what influences our health happens outside of the doctor’s office. People from all sectors, such as planning, architecture, transportation, business, philanthropy, education, government and health care, must work together to create programs and policies to help people build healthier communities and lead healthier lives.

The expertise and perspective of urban planners, architects and transportation professionals have is essential in creating a healthy community infrastructure.  We invite you to learn more about the current health of your community through the County Health Rankings and want you to be a part of the movement to create a healthier nation county by county.
To learn more about the County Health Rankings and how to integrate the County Health Rankings into your work, please join us on January 17, 2012 from 2:00 – 3:00 pm CST for a FREE Rankings 101 webinar.  Click here to register for the webinar.

To learn more about building healthy communities, take a look at the archived County Health Rankings webinar, “Building Healthy Communities” featuring Dr. Arthur Wendel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Leslie Meehan of the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning organization.  Click here to view this webinar.
Additional information on the County Health Rankings and taking action to improve your community’s health can be found at


great metric!

Improving community health is a really complex task.  These rankings provide a great way for counties to gauge quantifiable gains in community health.


Write your comments in the box below and share on your Facebook!