Your County’s Health and Cancer Risk

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The latest report on county health rankings found, once again, where you live makes a  difference to how long you live and your health. The least healthy counties have twice the death rates as the nation’s healthiest, according to the report. Wepeople_03

This is the fifth annual County Health Rankings, a report that compiles data on mortality and 29 health factors, including many that relate to cancer risk. For these factors, the findings are slightly encouraging for the nation. These include:

  • Obesity: Obesity rates for adults are holding steady with a rate of 28 percent for 2012. Prior, obesity rates increased from 16 percent of adults in 1995 to 28 percent in 2010. Aside from smoking, obesity is now the single largest risk factor for cancer. The latest research shows that obesity is a cause of 8 cancers, including post-menopausal breast, ovarian and endometrial.
  • Smoking: Smoking rates among adults dropped from 21 percent in 2005 to 18 percent in 2012.  But one of every ten US counties have adults smoking rates of 20 percent or higher. Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of cancer.
  • Activity: Almost a third (30%) of adults are physically inactive; a decrease from previous years. The counties where residents live the longest have a 21 percent or fewer physically inactive adults. The report defined inactivity as adults who reported they did not do any activity aside from their job, such as walking or gardening, during the last month. Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate activity daily reduces risk of colorectal cancer and several others.
  • Access to a healthy food environment: This measure looked at whether residents had access to fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods, along with whether they were getting enough to eat. The healthiest counties have a food environment score that is 1.2 times that of the least healthy. Research shows that eating diets high in plant foods, which contain fiber, minerals, nutrients and other compounds, links to reduced risk of many cancers.

Other factors compiled for each county include access to parks or recreational facilities, education, unemployment, air quality, and poverty. Along with lifespan, you can see how all the factors relate to quality of life measures, including physical and mental health sick days. The report goal, write the authors, is to help communities see the health problems they face and create solutions.

The report is by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI). Authors used a variety of national data sources to compile data then standardized and ranked the counties.

You can see how your county ranks in this interactive map.


    Author: Mya Nelson

    Mya R. Nelson is at American Institute for Cancer Research, where she writes about the research in the field.

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