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Counties get roadmap to better health with annual rankings

Shelby County ranks No. 58 when the health of its residents is measured against the health of residents in Tennessee’s other 94 counties. Shelby County ranks No. 58 when the health of its residents is measured against the health of residents in Tennessee’s other 94 counties.

So says data in the annual County Health Rankings, released Tuesday by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

According to the rankings, Williamson County continues to have the healthiest residents in Tennessee and Benton County is the least healthy county in the state.

This is the second year of the County Health Rankings. The report ranks the overall health of nearly every county in all 50 states by using a standard way to measure how healthy people are and how long they live. Many view it as a tool that helps see how where people live, learn, work and play influence how healthy they are and how long they live.

The rankings say the 10 healthiest counties in Tennessee are: Williamson, Sumner, Rutherford, Moore, Blount, Wilson, Putnam, Knox, Robertson, Montgomery.

The 10 counties in the poorest health, starting with least healthy, are: Benton, Grundy, Fentress, Campbell, Lewis, Hardeman, Carroll, Cocke, Rhea, Decatur.

The healthiest of Tennessee’s 95 counties are clustered in the north of the state, near Nashville; the least healthy counties are primarily in the west and northeast of Tennessee.

Researchers used five measures to assess the level of overall health or “health outcomes” for Tennessee by county: the rate of people dying before age 75, the percent of people who report being in fair or poor health, the numbers of days people report being in poor physical and poor mental health, and the rate of low-birthweight infants.

The Rankings also looks at factors that affect people’s health within four categories: health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment. Among the many health factors they looked at: rates of adult smoking, adult obesity, excessive drinking among adults, and teenage births; the number of uninsured adults, availability of primary care providers, and preventable hospital stays; rates of high school graduation, adults who have attended college, children in poverty; and community safety; access to healthy foods and air pollution levels.

“The County Health Rankings help everyone see that much of what influences our health happens outside of the doctor’s office and where we live matters to our health,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“The good news is that there are things counties can do right away to help their residents lead healthier lives. We hope this second annual release of County Health Rankings data will spur all sectors – government, business, community and faith-based groups, education and public health – to work together to find solutions and take action and implement programs and policy changes to improve health.”

The Foundation has launched a new program to help communities improve the health of their residents. Under the program RWJF will provide grants to up to 14 communities to strengthen broad-based community efforts to improve health.

The rankings and more information are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

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