2014’s County Health Rankings, issued in collaboration between the University of Wisconsin Popular Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that America’s least healthy counties are also leaders in child poverty and teen births. This year’s findings are not based solely on health factors, but also non-health factors such as transit, housing and college attendance. Although, even in a single state, the inhabitants’ ability to lead healthy lives can vary, there are some states that stand out in a negative way.
America’s least healthy counties have double the death rate of those living in healthier regions and are leaders in child poverty and teen births. In order to determine the health situation, the County Health Rankings usually relies on factors like smoking, graduation rates, unemployment, poverty and teen births, but this year other aspects, such as access to mental health providers, housing, transit, food environment, injury-related deaths and access to physical activity, have been included. Although some regions represent the engine that makes health measures work, the least healthy counties are falling behind. The overall results show that one in five homes are overcrowded and do not have proper facilities to cook and bathe, issues which are more common in counties on the coasts, in parts of the South and in Alaska. The least healthy counties also lack mental health providers, which makes the healthier regions have professionals who are 1.3 times more available than in unhealthy areas. However, the most striking discovery is that the proportion of children living in poverty has gone from 18 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2012.
America’s least healthy counties are leaders not only in child poverty, but also when it comes to driving alone to work, which can trigger several problems like exposure to accidents, air pollution, obesity, physical inactivity and social isolation, as the report shows. While three-quarters of American workers are used to driving to work alone, this situation is substantially increased when it comes to people living in Eastern counties.
Mental health is another pressing problem of the least healthy counties. The report concludes that in these regions, there is one mental health provider for 55,969 people, while on average there are 1,620 mental health professionals per person. The situation improves for people living in the West and the Northeast.
In Kentucky, the percentage of child poverty ranges from eight to 27 percent, depending on the region but, although this state has the biggest range, in 2012, 23 percent of all American children lived in poverty.
The report also shows that college-educated people tend to live longer and lead healthier lives, so America’s least healthy counties are the ones in the South, although the range is huge. For example, in Texas, rates of “some college,” which refers to people between the ages of 25 and 44, with some post-secondary education, go from 25 to 80 percent.
The authors of the rankings noted that the most unhealthy regions in the United States have double the premature death rates, double the number of children living in poverty, and double the teen births when compared to healthier counties.
As a result, it can be concluded that America’s least healthy counties are leaders in child poverty and other factors that decrease life expectancy and overall healthy lifestyles.
By Gabriela Motroc