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Press Release

Rankings compare health of counties not communities

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A report released today ranking how healthy every county is in the United States focuses much needed attention on the many factors affecting health but doesn't tell the whole story, according to local health officials.

The report allows people to see how the health of their county as a whole compares to other counties within a state. What the report doesn't show are big differences among communities within counties, said Contra Costa Public Health Director Dr. Wendel Brunner.

"We know it's important and useful to have standard measures across the country to rate health outcomes, but this kind of one-number ranking masks the enormous disparities that exist in counties like ours," Dr. Brunner said.

The county health rankings were released by University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report focuses on a few health outcome measures for mortality (i.e., death) and morbidity (i.e., illness) and 23 other measures for factors that impact health in the areas of health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and the physical environment.

Out of California counties, Contra Costa ranked 19th in overall health outcomes and 13th in overall health factors. In the sub-categories of Health Outcomes, Contra Costa ranked 12th in mortality (death) and 34th in morbidity (illness). In sub-categories of Health Factors, Contra Costa ranked 1st in physical environment. For the entire report, visit:

Dr. Brunner said that the physical environment is an important issue Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS) has worked very hard on, but the county ranking based on a few countywide measures doesn't tell the whole story.

"We also know that there are very serious health disparities involving physical environment and air quality that still exist in our county. That's why it is so important for local health departments and their partners to drill down to outcomes on a neighborhood and community basis," Dr. Brunner said.

For example, a CCHS study featuring a food retail index shows many communities in Contra Costa have no access to healthy food. A report, Deluged with Diesel, shows that some communities in Contra Costa are suffering disproportionate consequences because of diesel emissions (See full report at: CCHS data also shows that children less than 15 years old living in San Pablo and Richmond have higher hospitalization rates for asthma than the children in the county overall.

"The rankings report highlights the fact that many factors play a part in our health and also underscores the need for local health departments to continue their important work to delve even deeper to address health disparities and inequities for all people living in a county," Brunner said.

For more information on Contra Costa Health Services, visit the CCHS website at

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