Apr 3, 2023 - News

Bay Area counties lead the state in good health

Health outcomes of California counties, 2023
Data: County Health Rankings; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Almost all Bay Area counties earned a "highest" score in an annual ranking by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

  • Marin County ranked best in California overall and San Francisco County seventh.

Why it matters: The data is so rich that even high-scoring communities can find weak spots to tackle, often by solving problems that may not immediately seem connected to health such as inadequate housing, long solo commutes and even low voter turnout.

  • It's designed to be a tool to help decide where to invest resources.

How it works: The annual rankings crunch "health outcomes" data — such as premature death, low birthweight and self-reported mental and physical well-being — along with "health factors" — various inputs that correlate to health outcomes.

  • Some factors are directly connected to health, such as the number of dentists in a community or the rate of sexually transmitted infections. But others are indirectly tied to physical health, such as social ties, economic health and the physical environment.
  • Healthier counties tend to have better access to information, through things like good broadband, libraries and local news outlets, as well as well-funded schools and parks.

What they're saying: "Where there's an opportunity for change is in those health factors," Ericka Burroughs-Girardi, research program coordinator for the project — called County Health Rankings & Roadmaps — tells Axios. "When health factors go up, health rankings tend to follow."

  • The research includes data-backed strategies to address specific problems, like child care subsidies to help close income gaps, or supporting community gardens to promote exercise and healthier eating.

Zoom in: San Francisco had two-thirds fewer alcohol-related driving deaths than Marin, San Mateo or Alameda counties, but much higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

  • San Francisco also has a better provider-to-people ratio of primary care doctors, mental health providers and dentists, compared to those three counties.

Zoom out: California's lowest ranked counties for health are Trinity, Siskiyou and Lake.

  • You can compare counties here.

The intrigue: Good health can affect the opportunities individuals have, whether to earn a living or do things that help them feel well. "It's a feedback loop," Christine Muganda, data and analytics team lead for the study, tells Axios.

  • "If we want healthy communities to become the default, we need to think about removing barriers," she said.

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