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2014 County Health Rankings Highlight Health Differences Across California

March 26, 2014

Many rural counties, in particular, fare poorly

(Oakland, CA) – Marin is the healthiest county in California and Lake is the least healthy, according to the fifth annual County Health Rankings, released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Similar to last year, several (although not all) counties in the Bay Area ranked high. Many rural counties – especially in the far north of the state and the central valley – remained low.

“The County Health Rankings continue to provide a much-needed wake-up call about the health disparities that persist across California, and particularly the challenges faced by rural counties,” said Mary A. Pittman, DrPH, president and CEO of the Public Health Institute (PHI), which helps disseminate the County Health Rankings in California. “These disparities were years in the making and won’t be reversed overnight. The County Health Rankings remind us of the urgent need to stay steadfast in investing in California’s most vulnerable communities to establish a culture of health.”

The County Health Rankings grade each California county based on two sets of factors: Health outcomes (length and quality of life) and health factors (the various economic, social, behavioral and environmental factors that influence health). This methodology underscores that access to health care is only one factor helping people stay healthy. Conditions such as employment, education, air quality, housing and transit – to name just a few – are also critical determinants of a community’s health.

Below is a list of the five highest and lowest ranked counties in California. (One county, Alpine, was not ranked.)  

Top 5 Ranked California Counties
1. Marin
2. Placer
3. Santa Clara
4. San Mateo
5. Yolo

Bottom 5 Ranked California Counties
53. Yuba
54. Modoc
55. Siskiyou
56. Del Norte
57. Lake

A quick analysis of Marin and Lake counties illustrates the disparities within the state. According to data compiled for the 2014 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. Not surprisingly, Lake also experiences more than 2 ½ times the number of years lost to premature death than Marin.

The full California 2014 Rankings report includes a snapshot of each county in California, a color-coded map comparing each county’s overall health ranking, county-level trend graphs detailing change over time for several measures, and stories of how counties have used the Rankings to take action to improve health in their communities.

One program working to improve health in California’s rural counties is PHI’s CA4Health. Through the program, PHI partners with the California Department of Public Health, local health departments and community-based organizations in small and rural counties to implement evidence-based interventions to address some of the social determinants of health that drive higher rates of chronic disease among  their residents and workers. These include relatively high rates of tobacco use with fewer protections from secondhand smoke, lack of access to healthier food and beverage options, and lack of resources and programs that support physical activity and access to clinical resources.

However, this year’s federal budget eliminated the Community Transformation Grant program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which funded CA4Health. CA4Health will operate through the fall of 2014.

“The 2014 Rankings validate the importance of supporting efforts to improve the health of California’s rural residents by improving the health of the communities where they live and work," said Robert Berger, MSJ, director of CA4Health. “These are deeply rooted problems that take time and concerted effort to turn around. The rural and smaller counties we work with are showing meaningful progress at the local level through their community efforts. What they need are the resources and support to sustain these efforts over time.”

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.