Do You Live in One of the Healthiest or Least Healthy Counties in America?

A lot of studies have been done about how much health and quality of life vary from state to state in the U.S; a new one from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, however, takes it a step further, examining the most and least healthy counties in each state. County to county, the differences can be astonishing — and not all of the factors that affect how each county ranks are medical.

The authors of the ranking found that elements like housing, transit, and college education are associated with health behaviors and outcomes. College-educated people tend to live healthier, longer lives, and housing problems can not only be associated with poor health — they can actually cause poor health. Driving to work, too, is awful for health; in addition to the deaths and injuries it can lead to, it also exposes us to air pollution and contributes to physical inactivity and obesity — and if you commute alone, rather than as part of a car pool, you can add social isolation to the list.

So what does all this mean? Let’s take a look at the state of New York as an example. Of those who live in the healthiest county, Livingston County, 62 percent have at least some college under their belt, 13 percent suffer from severe housing problems, 81 percent drive to work alone, and 42 percent have a long commute driving to work alone. Meanwhile, in the least healthy county, Bronx County, only 49 percent have some college, 37 percent deal with severe housing problems, 24 percent drive to work alone, and 49 percent have a long commute driving to work alone. Bronx County has fewer drivers overall, so it makes sense for the driving numbers to go down — but the differences in the other factors matter. A lot. We can look at the numbers of premature deaths in each county for a clear picture of how much: Livingston County number 4,701, while Bronx County comes in at 7,481. That’s almost 3,000 more premature deaths. Yikes.

You can see how the data measures up for your county thanks to County Health Rankings and Roadmaps’ nifty interactive. For the curious, here are the five healthiest and five least healthy counties in New York:

Healthiest:

1. Livingston

2. Tompkins

3. Rockland

4. Putnam

5. Saratoga

Least Healthy:

58. Hamilton

59. Niagara

60. Chemung

61. Sullivan

62. Bronx

Image: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation