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The healthiest county in Alabama is Shelby, just south of Birmingham, and the county in poorest health is Walker, in northwest Alabama, according to a study that ranks the health of all 67 of Alabama’s counties.
The 2012 “County Health Rankings” study was released today by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. According to the rankings, residents of Walker County have more than twice the number of premature deaths than residents of Shelby County.
In the tri-county area, Elmore County was ranked 7th. Autauga and Montgomery counties were ranked 22nd and 23rd, respectively.
Researchers used several measures to assess the level of overall health, or “health outcomes,” for Alabama by county: the rate of people dying before age 75; the percent of people who report being in fair or poor health; the numbers of days people report being in poor physical and poor mental health; and the rate of low-birthweight infants.
The researchers ranked each county in all 50 states against the other counties within that state.
The top five healthiest counties in Alabama are, in order, Shelby, Lee, Baldwin, Madison and Limestone. The five counties in the poorest health are Walker, Perry, Bullock, Dallas and Lowndes.
Those top five counties have some of the highest median household incomes in the state — Shelby has the highest, at $67,135. In contrast, the five counties at the bottom represent some of the lowest median household incomes. Perry County has the among the lowest, at $24,742.
“The ‘County Health Rankings’ show us that where we live matters to our health,” said Kate Konkle, outreach specialist with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The organization actually does two different rankings — health outcomes, which represent how healthy a county is; and health factors, which represent what influences the health of a county.
“What (those) show us is there are a lot of different things that impact how healthy someone is and can be,” Konkle said.
Social and economic factors play a huge role in the health of a community, she said, and the health of the people in that community.
Income and education level are big factors, too, along with access to health care, access to healthy food and safe places to be active outside, just to name a few.
“Because those factors like education and income tend to be really big drivers of the health of a community, counties with higher income levels do tend to rank higher and be healthier. But that’s not the only thing that influences health,” Konkle said.
Whether or not a county scored well, the rankings are designed to start conversations within communities and become catalysts for change, Konkle said. “Even for the counties that do rank well, there’s things they can do (to improve),” she said.
That’s where the new “County Health Roadmaps” come in. Those “what we can do” steps are designed to help counties mobilize to create healthier places to live and play. “They’re great resources for communities that want to take action,” Konkle said.
Everyone can visit www.countyhealthrankings.org beginning today and look over the vast array of data.
People can get just an overview, if they want, or they can really drill down and take a closer look at the numbers, Konkle said.
The bottom line, she said, is that everyone can play a part in making their county a better place.
“Where we live matters to our health, so we all have a responsibility to make where we live healthier places,” she said.
© 2013 Elmore County Economic Development Authority. All Rights Reserved.