Robrt L. Pela

Health care begins at home

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Rankings shows Maricopa County as third healthiest in Arizona

The 2012 County Health Rankings places Maricopa County as the third healthiest of Arizona’s 15 counties based on an array of factors, such as smoking rates, access to healthy food, teen birth rates and the number of primary care physicians. Maricopa is home to nearly four million people, including more than one million Latinos, according to the 2010 Census. 

Compared to the state averages, Maricopa County has a lower rate of premature deaths, a smaller percentage of children in poverty, higher high school graduation rates and more screening for diabetes and breast cancer. “Other areas where [it’s] doing better include fewer adults smoking and less sexually-transmitted infections,” says Angela Russell, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI). 

The Rankings, a collaborative project between the UWPHI and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), is an annual check-up that highlights the healthiest and least healthy counties in every state, as well as those factors that influence health outside of the doctor’s office.  

“Where we live, learn, work and play has a big role in determining how healthy we are and how long we live,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., MBA, and president and CEO of RWJF. “The good news is that businesses, health care providers, government, consumers and community leaders are already joining forces in communities across the nation to change some of the gaps that the Rankings highlight.” 

The Rankings shows the importance of environmental, social, economic and other factors, including individual behaviors and clinical care, in influencing how long and how well people live. Among them, social and economic factors, such as education, income, employment and community safety, have a huge impact on people’s quality of life. 

Within each state, however, even the healthier counties have areas in which they can improve. Maricopa County’s challenges include its 43 days per year of poor air quality compared with an average of 29 for the rest of the state. Maricopa also has higher rates of teen births and homicides than neighboring counties.   

“We see the County Health Rankings as a starting point so you can see a snapshot of where your county is doing well and where there are opportunities for improvement,” Russell says. “We don’t want these to be data that sit on the computer; we want these to be data that are used to take action.” 

New this year is the County Health Roadmaps, which is intended to help counties mobilize and take action to create healthier places. It features the Roadmaps to Health Prize, which will be awarded early next year to as many as six communities working at the forefront of better health practices for all residents. Applications for the $25,000 cash prize, which can be downloaded at, are being accepted through June 7.  

“We don’t separate the data by race or ethnicity; I think it’s really important for all residents to get engaged,” Russell urges. “If you see something in your area that you want changed, tell people about it. Write or call your local elected official and say, ‘We have a challenge here, and I want to be a part of the solution.’” 

This year, to illustrate the connection between social factors and health further, RWJF and the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Human Needs unveiled a new and improved County Health Calculator. The Calculator is an interactive online app that shows how education and income influence rates of diabetes and diabetes costs county by county.

Visit to read the full report.

Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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