Improving the Environmental Quality Component of the County Health Rankings Model

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Abstract

Objectives

We examined the association between environmental quality measures and health outcomes by using the County Health Rankings data, and tested whether a revised environmental quality measure for 1 state could improve the models.

Methods

We conducted state-by-state, county-level linear regression analyses to determine how often the model’s 4 health determinants (social and economic factors, health behaviors, clinical care, and physical environment) were associated with mortality and morbidity outcomes. We then developed a revised measure of environmental quality for West Virginia, and tested whether the revised measure was superior to the original measure.

Results

Measures of social and economic conditions, and health behaviors, were related to health outcomes in 58% to 88% of state models; measures of environmental quality were related to outcomes in 0% to 8% of models. In West Virginia, the original measure of environmental quality was unrelated to any of the 8 health outcome measures, but the revised measure was significantly related to all 8.

Conclusions

The County Health Rankings model underestimates the impact of the physical environment on public health outcomes. Suggestions for other data sources that may contribute to improved measurement of the physical environment are provided.

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