Special Report

The Most Unhealthy Counties in America

5. Walker, Ala.
> Premature deaths (years of life lost per 100,000): 15,601 (the highest)
> Percent reporting fair or poor health: 31% (third highest)
> Infants born with low birth weight: 9.9% (105th highest)
> Unemployment: 10.6%
> Largest municipality: Jasper

Walker County has the worst rate of premature deaths in the country, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Among county residents, 31% report having fair or poor health — the nation’s third-highest rate. They report being physically unhealthy an average of 5.9 days each month and mentally unhealthy 5.0 days each month. Both of these rates are among the country’s worst. At 32%, the county has the fifth-highest rate of residents who have limited access to healthy food, as well as the fifth-highest rate of physically inactive adults at 38%.

4. Mercer, W.V.
> Premature deaths (years of life lost per 100,000): 12,022 (18th highest)
> Percent reporting fair or poor health: 25% (33rd highest)
> Unemployment: 8.4%
> Children in poverty: 31% (99th highest)
> Largest municipality: Bluefield

Mercer County is among the worst in the country in a variety of health metrics. The rate of premature death is particularly high, as is the rate of infants born with low birth weight and the percentage of people who report being physically inactive. One in four residents claim to be in fair or poor health, with the average person reportedly being physically unhealthy 5.6 days each month. On average, each resident is mentally unhealthy 4.6 days out of each month.

3. Columbus, N.C.
> Premature deaths (years of life lost per 100,000): 12,501 (11th highest)
> Percent reporting fair or poor health: 28% (14th highest)
> Unemployment: 12.7%
> Children in poverty: 41% (14th highest)
> Largest municipality: Whiteville

There are a number of health-related areas in which Columbus performs particularly poorly. Most notable is its high rate of prematurely lost life, which ranks 11th worst. This can, in part, be explained by the county’s exceptionally high rate of motor vehicle deaths at 42 per 1,000 people. In addition, 31% of adults feel they lack social or emotional support and 41% — one of the highest rates in the country. The percentage of children living below the poverty level is also extremely high at 41%.

2. Pike, Ky.
> Premature deaths (years of life lost per 100,000): 13,251 (eighth highest)
> Percent reporting fair or poor health: 36% (the highest)
> Unemployment: 10.1%
> Children in poverty: 37% (tied for 26th highest)
> Largest municipality: Pikeville

Of the 1,000 counties in the report, Kentucky’s Pike is absolute worst in a number of categories. For example, 36% of residents report being in fair or poor health, which is the highest recorded rate. Additionally, residents report being physically unhealthy an average of 7.9 days per month and mentally unhealthy 7.0 days per month — the highest amounts in the country. Pike residents also have the highest rate of diabetes, the highest rate of physical inactivity, and the highest rate of preventable hospital stays among medicare enrollees.

1. Talladega, Ala.
> Premature deaths (years of life lost per 100,000): 12,212 (14th highest)
> Percent reporting fair or poor health: 30% (tied, seventh highest)
> Unemployment: 11.5%
> Children in poverty: 34% (63rd highest)
> Largest municipality: Talladega

Talladega County is, by many counts, the most unhealthy county in the country. Thirty percent of adults report being in fair or poor health, among the country’s highest rates. A particularly high 12.7% of children are born with low birth weight. The county also has among the highest rates of residents who report fair or poor health, are obese, have no social or emotional support and have diabetes. The average number of days residents report being physically unhealthy each month is 5.3, and the number of days residents report being mentally unhealthy is 5.2. Both of these are among the worst in the country.

Read: The Healthiest Counties in America

-Michael B. Sauter, Charles B. Stockdale