How Healthy is Your County? Watch the Webinar

Mar 27, 2014, 3:05 PM

Leaders from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, who collaborate each year on the County Health Rankings, held a webinar—the launch day for the 2014 report—to talk about the importance of the Rankings and what’s new this year, as well as to answer questions from a wide ranging Twitter audience.

The webcast is now available online and provides a broad and insightful overview of how the County Health Rankings are helping to improve health across the United States.

"Our vision is a nation where getting healthy, staying healthy and making sure our children grow up healthy are top priorities,” said Michelle Larkin, JD, RN, RWJF assistant vice president for portfolio programs, at the start of the webcast.

Six new measures were added to this year’s report, including housing and transportation.

“The Rankings are only as valuable as the actions they inspire,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, RN, PhD, Deputy Director of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps and a panelist on the webinar. She also directed viewers to the Action Center section of the Rankings website, which includes step-by-step guides for policies and activities counties can initiate to help improve health.

Videos shown during the webcast explained the health factors and outcomes that make up the rankings while showcasing efforts to improve health in Western New York, Kentucky and North Carolina. The webcast also highlighted the six 2013 Culture of Health Prize winners whose community efforts to improve health included tackling domestic violence and improving access to preschool education.

Questions poured in via Twitter during the webcast, including a query about how the Rankings have helped changed the conversation about community health.

“There has been an incredible change,” said Van Dijk. “People are starting to talk about the many factors that influence health. When we started people would say, ‘Why are issues such as employment and education in a health report?’” Added Van Dijk, “More and more, we’re seeing people understand that those factors are key determinants of health. And what that has done has increased the sense of awareness that it takes all of us to build a culture of health. We can’t just lay it at the door of hospitals and health departments.”

“We’ve seen mayors and other legislators stand up and take ownership of this report and action on changing policy, such as how people from all income levels have access to quality preschool education,” she added.

Webinar panelist Patrick Remington, MD, MPH, associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, encouraged participants to add to the utility of the Rankings report by also using local data to help them drill down on what is impacting local communities. “Differences we see in teenage pregnancies may be two times higher in blacks than whites, but can be fifteen times higher when comparing where people live,” he said.

>>Bonus Link: Read more about the 2014 County Health Rankings reports and featured communities on NewPublicHealth.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.