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Unhealthiest counties lead in preventable hospital stays


By Paul Barr
Posted: March 20, 2013 - 12:01 am ET
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The unhealthiest counties in the nation have the highest rates of preventable hospital stays, smoking and adult obesity, according to the 2013 County Health Rankings, a joint effort of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The healthiest counties, meanwhile, had higher numbers of primary-care doctors.

The least-healthy counties experienced 82.8 preventable hospital stays per 1,000 Medicare enrollees, while in the healthiest counties the rate was 57.2 per 1,000. The rest of the nation's counties experienced 74 preventable hospital stays per 1,000 Medicare enrollees.

The report's authors also found that 24% of adults smoke in the least-healthy counties, compared with 16% in the healthiest and 21% in the other counties.

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The differences in the rates of obesity were less pronounced, with 30% of adults in the unhealthiest counties being obese, while the rate was 23% in the healthiest counties. The rest of the nation's counties had an obesity rate of 28%.

There was one primary-care physician for every 2,129 residents in the least healthy counties, and 1,491 residents for every primary-care doctor in the healthiest counties. The rest of the counties in the study had 1,978 people per primary-care physician.

The data yielded some unexpected results. The healthiest counties had a higher rate of excessive drinking at 17% when compared with the unhealthiest at 15% and the rest of the country at 14%.

This is the fourth year of the rankings, which were calculated using 25 factors, including those listed above, to rate counties in the equally weighted categories of length of life and quality of life. The healthiest and least healthy county data were calculated using the results of the states' five most and least healthy counties, excluding 90 counties in which data were unavailable and 20 counties in four states that didn't have at least 10 counties: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii and Rhode Island.


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