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Where are Californians the Healthiest? 2015 County Health Rankings Map Differences in Health Across State

March 25, 2015

 Many rural counties, in particular, fare poorly

(Oakland, CA) – Marin is the healthiest county in California and Sierra is the least healthy, according to the sixth 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.

“Your zip code should not determine your life expectancy, but the County Health Rankings continue to show that this is often the case for our most vulnerable residents,” said Mary A. Pittman, DrPH, president and CEO of the Public Health Institute (PHI), which helps disseminate the County Health Rankings in California. “The health disparities we see across California counties were years in the making and won’t be reversed overnight. We must stay steadfast in investing in California’s 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 services 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. Orange

Bottom 5 Ranked California Counties
53. Modoc
54. Trinity
55. Siskiyou
56. Lake
57. Sierra

A quick analysis of Marin and Sierra counties illustrates the disparities within the state. According to data compiled for the County Health Rankings, Sierra experiences 3 times the number of years lost to premature death compared to Marin. Sierra has more than twice the unemployment and violent crime rates, and exactly twice the percentage of kids living in poverty, compared to Marin. Sierra has a higher percentage of residents who are obese (23% v. 16%) and uninsured (21% v. 12%). Marin has over four times the number of primary care physicians per resident (3086:1 v. 700:1) and close to four times the number of mental health professionals per resident (609:1 v. 160:1).

The full California 2015 County Health 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 County Health Rankings to take action to improve health in their communities.

This year PHI, in partnership with LiveStories, developed an interactive data visualization tool for counties to easily analyze County Health Rankings data related to obesity. The tool populates data in charts and graphs and allows counties to easily see how they compare to state averages and high and low scoring counties.  View the story.

PHI has a long history of working to address the health disparities highlighted by the County Health Rankings. In September PHI was awarded close to $3 million over three years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) initiative to implement Cultiva La Salud in Fresno, Kern and Stanislaus counties (#49, #53 and #38 in the County Health Rankings, respectively).  The program will focus on increasing access to healthy food and beverage options as well as opportunities for physical activity among area Latinos in order to prevent obesity and chronic disease. However, due to funding cuts to the REACH initiative, Cultiva La Salud has already been scaled back to a two-year program.  

“The 2015 Rankings show the enormous challenges to achieving health in California’s Central Valley,” said Genoveva Islas, MPH, director of Cultiva La Salud and also a member of the California Health Benefit Exchange. “The good news is that we have the evidence base in public health to know what interventions can turn the tide. What we really need is political will and resources 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.