How Healthy Is Your County? Providence Needs Improvement.

Mar 25, 2015

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has released its annual County Health Rankings, and Rhode Island's counties (Providence in particular) seem to be faring worse than the national average on a few measures, and much better on a few, too.

First, about the rankings: RWJF ranks counties by health outcomes (a combination of the length of life and quality of life) and by the factors that contribute to those outcomes. To get at health outcomes, the foundation looks at the percentage of people who die prematurely, are born with low birth weight, and the number of days people report feeling physically or mentally unwell. The factors that influence those outcomes include things like smoking rates, obesity, access to exercise opportunities, access to primary care, educational attainment, crime, and pollution.

The data comes from a number of national and local sources, and while it doesn't tell the whole story of a county or community's health and what influences it, the report is a useful snapshot, including some trend data, to spur further research or action.

Providence ranks the worst, out of all five Rhode Island counties, for health outcomes and factors.

Map ranking Rhode Island counties by health outcomes. The lighter colors represent better health outcomes.
Credit County Health Rankings 2015 / Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

From the statewide summary, here are a few rankings that stood out to me:

Needs improvement:

  • We're well above the national median (20% vs. 14%) in terms of the percent of households with severe overcrowding, high housing costs, or "lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities."
  • We're well above the U.S. median for violent crime.
  • Every county but Bristol has seen a steady increase in the number of cases of chlamydia, a sexually transmitted infection. The median number of cases diagnosed per 100,000 people nationwide is 291. In Rhode Island, it's 411. Here's why this matters, according to the RWJF:

"Chlamydia is...one of the major causes of tubal infertility, ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease, and chronic pelvic pain....The direct medical costs of managing [STIs] and their complications in the US, for example, was approximately 15.6 billion dollars in 2008."

Already improving:

  • We're doing a bit better that the rest of the nation when it comes to the percent of children in poverty, and percent of adults with some college education.
  • More Rhode Islanders have health insurance than the rest of the country.
  • Our teen birth rate is almost half the national median.
  • Our obesity rates are lower than the rest of the country, and residents report much better access to places to exercise.

Map ranking health factors for Rhode Island counties. The darker colors indicate worse performance on these measures.
Credit County Health Rankings 2015 / Robert Wood Johnson Foundation