2023 County Health Rankings Highlight Disparities Across Arkansas

March 29, 2023


Katrina Bishop
Policy Analyst


ACHI Communications

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The latest installment of an annual ranking of U.S. counties by health factors and health outcomes finds that disparities persist between urban and rural parts of Arkansas, with the disparities mostly favoring urban counties over rural counties.

Released today (March 29), the new rankings from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps rate Benton, Washington, and Saline counties as first, second, and third, respectively, in Arkansas in terms of overall health outcomes. The three counties held the same positions in last year’s rankings. The lowest-ranked counties this year are Lee (73rd), Monroe (74th), and Phillips (75th) ― and other Delta counties also tend to rank below counties in other parts of the state. Monroe and Phillips counties held the same rankings last year, but last year’s 73rd-ranked county, Mississippi, moves to 72nd this year.

County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a program of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, ranks each state’s counties for overall health outcomes (length of life and quality of life, the latter based on self-reported health status and low birthweight rate) and overall health factors (health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment) among county residents. Top-ranking counties have the most favorable health outcomes and health factors, while the bottom-ranking counties have the least favorable health outcomes and health factors.

Comparisons are also provided between Arkansas and the U.S. for each measure. Arkansas’s health outcomes are less favorable than the nation’s in every reported measure.

For overall health factors, Benton, Saline, and Washington counties rank first, second, and third, respectively, while Lee (73rd), Chicot (74th), and Phillips (75th) are the lowest-ranked. Arkansas’s health factors are less favorable than the nation’s in 22 of the 28 reported measures that were included in the overall rankings. Some of these measures include:

    Health factors that are more favorable for Arkansas than the U.S. as a whole include:

    • Percentage of population under age 65 without health insurance.
    • Percentage of population ages 16 and older unemployed but seeking work.
    • Percentage of adults reporting binge or heavy drinking.
    • Percentage of driving deaths with alcohol involvement.
    • Number of membership associations (civic, political, religious, sports, and professional organizations) per 10,000 people, a measure of opportunities for social support.
    • Among workers who commute in their car alone, the percentage that commute more than 30 minutes.

    Accompanying the 2023 state rankings is a report on national findings. The report includes a focus on the connection between civic health and thriving people and places. Civic health reflects the opportunities people have to participate in their communities. The report explores how civic infrastructure creates opportunities for civic participation and how these elements comprise civic health. It also highlights structural barriers to civic health, including gerrymandered districts, laws and practices that create obstacles to voting, and disinvested civic infrastructure. Many Southern states, including Arkansas, have more structural barriers than others, according to the report.

    The report notes that civic infrastructure provides communities with spaces to meet, engage in cultural activities, and enjoy nature. These civic spaces support community cohesion and provide a foundation for civic action and local solutions. Civic participation includes the ways that people participate in community life to improve conditions and shape the community’s future.

    The report indicates that areas with more available and resourced civic infrastructure (including access to civic spaces and information such as broadband, libraries, newspapers, social associations, parks and schools) often have more social and economic opportunity. Alternatively, in counties where long-standing discrimination and disinvestment have occurred through policies and practices, residents have fewer social and economic opportunities for education, employment, income, and family and social support. These counties experience higher rates of children living in poverty, people without health insurance, lower household incomes and greater income inequality and lower rates of high school completion than the rest of the nation’s counties, on average.

    In Arkansas, 22% of children live in poverty, compared to the national average of 17%, according to the report. The percent of children living in poverty also varies greatly by county, with Benton and Saline counties experiencing the lowest at 11% and 12%, respectively, and Phillips reporting the highest rate of 46%.

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