How healthy -- or unhealthy -- are you?
The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation works hard each year to find the answer to that question for the U.S. on a county-by-county basis. Their County Health Rankings results were released recently, with the data revealing lots of interesting information about Americans' health.
While the goal of the researchers really isn't to point fingers, the details in the study do identify the problem areas in the U.S. when it comes to health behaviors. Here are the 10 unhealthiest counties in the nation, based on the number of residents reporting their poor health days per month.
|Rank||County||State||Poor Physical Health Days per Month|
Similarities and differences
Any ties among the counties' rankings were broken by looking at another secondary statistic: percentage of residents reporting only fair or poor health. As you might expect, most of these counties reported relatively high numbers in this category, but slight differences were used in crafting a definitive ordering.
The detailed data from County Health Rankings identified several other common denominators for the unhealthiest counties.
All of the unhealthiest counties had higher percentages of physically inactive residents and adults who smoke tobacco than the national averages. All reported unemployment rates higher than the national average. Seven of the counties had higher adult obesity rates than the national average. Seven of the counties also ranked in the bottom quartile for their state on access to healthy foods.
Interestingly, most of the unhealthiest counties had high school graduation rates that were relatively high. Only Bledsoe County ranked in the lowest quartile in its state in this category. Owsley County actually ranked in the top quartile within the state of Kentucky for high school graduations.
The counties were a mixed bag on other criteria, though. For example, you might expect that the unhealthiest counties could have more elderly populations. That's true in some cases but not in all. Also, some of the counties have large minority populations while others don't.
Working for better health
One key goal for the County Health Ranking is to help leaders in government and the private sector improve the health in communities across the U.S. One group of companies is particularly interested in this effort -- health insurers.
Humana (NYSE:HUM) definitely has ample motivation to focus on improving population health. The company is based in Kentucky, home of two of the unhealthiest counties. Humana also does business in each of the states represented in our list.
Humana CEO Bruce Broussard recently wrote that his company intends "to improve the health of the communities we serve 20% by 2020." How? For one thing, Broussard says that Humana will focus on the Healthy Days measurement developed by the CDC. This measurement basically asks people how many days they feel healthy. Sounds familiar, right?
The large insurer started by helping its own employees improve their health. Broussard noted that 40% of employees with Humana since 2012 have improved their health profiles, including losing a combined 194,000 pounds.
For members enrolled in its health plans, Humana is giving special attention to those with chronic health problems. And the company is trying to speed up what Broussard calls "the democratization of health care" by supporting telemedicine and outcomes-based care.
Humana's shareholders have reason to trust Broussard's strategy. The stock is up nearly 60% over the last 12 months and has nearly quadrupled in the past five years. Since the company's financial performance is directly correlated to the health status of its members, this initiative to help improve population health could help improve investors' financial health. If Broussard meets his goal, people in the 10 counties on our list could be positively affected as well.
Keith Speights has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.