Eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, and abstaining from bad habits like smoking — while by no means a guarantee — greatly increase one’s odds of living a long and healthy life. While this should come as a surprise to no one, there are parts of the country where unhealthy lifestyles are relatively common. In these areas, the consequences are evident.
Americans who do not follow healthy lifestyle guidelines are often at increased risk of certain diseases and conditions that can be fatal, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. As a result, their odds of dying before age 75 increase, as does the day-to-day likelihood of poor physical or mental health.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on behaviors and outcomes in over 3,000 U.S. counties and county equivalents to identify the least healthy counties in the United States.
The overall health of a population is closely linked to certain social and economic conditions. A high uninsured rate is common in the counties on this list. Americans without health insurance are less likely to make regular doctor visits, receive treatments, and receive preventative care.
Partially because residents of most counties on this list are less likely to make regular doctor visits than the typical American, hospital visits for ailments that should have been treated in an outpatient facility are relatively common. All of the 20 least healthy counties in the United States have more preventable hospitalizations per capita than the national average of 4,520 per 100,000 Medicare enrollees. In some cases, the rate is almost triple.
To identify the 20 least healthy counties in the United States, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed county-level health data from 2019 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute joint program. Rankings are based on a composite score consisting of two categories of data: health outcomes and health factors. Health outcome measures include low birth weight, premature mortality, and average number of mentally unhealthy physically unhealthy days per month. Health factors include measures of that are linked to quality of life, including but not limited to smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, the number of health care providers per 100,000 people, excessive drinking, and the uninsured rate. The composite score was calculated using the national averages for each health outcome and factor, then combined into a composite score according to the CHR 2019 methodology. All 3,142 counties and county equivalents in the U.S. were considered.
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