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2013 County Health Rankings Highlight Health Differences Across California

March 20, 2013

Rural Counties Face Greatest Barriers to Health  


Oakland, CA – Marin is the healthiest county in California and Lake is the least healthy, according to the fourth annual County Health Rankings, released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The project assigns each California county a ranking based on health outcomes data and the various economic, social, behavioral and environmental factors that influence health. Similar to last year, several (although not all) counties in the Bay Area ranked high, while many rural counties remained low.

“The 2013 Rankings highlight the continuing health disparities that exist across California, but particularly call out the challenges facing rural counties,” said Mary Pittman, DrPH, president and CEO of the Public Health Institute (PHI), which helps to disseminate the 2013 Rankings in California. “Where Californians live affects their health. While medical care is important, much of what makes people healthy is about factors like education, crime, income and how communities are designed to support healthy behaviors. The Rankings are a call to action to invest in policies and programs that will improve the health of all Californians, no matter where they live.”
A quick analysis of the top and bottom ranked counties in California illustrates the disparities within the state. According to data compiled for the 2013 Rankings, Lake has twice the unemployment rate and three times the number of kids living in poverty that Marin has. Lake has more than twice the percentage of smokers and almost twice the percentage of residents who are obese. It has four times the percentage of residents who lack access to healthy foods and nearly four times fewer recreational facilities per 100,000 residents. Not surprisingly, Lake also experiences more than 2 ½ times the number of years lost to premature death than Marin.
Below is a list of the five highest and lowest ranked counties in California. (One county, Sierra, was not included in the analysis due to data limitations.)  

Top 5 Ranked California Counties
1. Marin
2. Placer
3. Santa Clara

4. San Mateo
5. Yolo

Bottom 5 Ranked California Counties
53. Del Norte
54. Kern
55. Tehama

56. Siskiyou
57. Lake

The full California 2013 Rankings report can be accessed at www.countyhealthrankings.org. It includes a snapshot of each county in California with a color-coded map comparing each county’s overall health ranking. There are also new county-level trend graphs detailing change over time for several of the measures, including children in poverty, unemployment and quality of care.

One program working to improve health in California’s rural communities is PHI’s CA4Health, a Community Transformation Grant funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Through the program, PHI partners with the California Department of Public Health and local health departments in small and rural counties across the state to implement evidence-based interventions tailored to meet the unique health challenges facing these communities. By addressing the underlying risk factors that have created the longstanding health disparities in many rural areas, CA4Health will help prevent chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

“The 2013 Rankings validate the importance of taking decisive action to improve the health of California’s rural residents, and programs like CA4Health are doing just that,” said Robert Berger, MSJ, director of CA4Health. “CA4Health provides rural counties with critical resources and support to address some of the biggest health threats their residents and workers face, like relatively high rates of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, poor diet, lack of access to healthier food and beverage options, and physical inactivity.”

PHI will hold a legislative briefing on April 5, 2013, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. to discuss how the 2013 Rankings can be used for program and policy development. The briefing will be held in Room 112 of the State Capitol Building in Sacramento, CA.  

The 2013 Rankings are one part of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program. Communities are taking information from the County Health Rankings and using the County Health Roadmaps to build connections with local and national partners to improve health. Today marks the release of the call for applications for the 2014 RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize, which honors outstanding community partnerships that help people live healthier lives. To learn more about this year’s winning communities or get information about becoming one, visit www.rwjf.org/goto/prize and www.countyhealthrankings.org.

For more information contact: 
Anne Sunderland, 510-285-5593, asunderland@phi.org.

About the Public Health Institute 
The Public Health Institute, an independent nonprofit organization, is dedicated to promoting health, well-being and quality of life for people throughout California, across the nation and around the world. For more information, visit www.phi.org.

For more information about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation visit: www.rwjf.org

For more information about the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute visit: http://uwphi.pophealth.wisc.edu

PHI's Dr. Dawn Jacobson comments on the County Health Rankings in this Ventura County Star article.