Knoxville (WVLT) - Tennessee has ranked how healthy you and your neighbors are compared to residents in other counties in the state.
And in East Tennessee, it found a spectrum as diverse as its culture.
Knox was the highest ranking county in our region at six. Fentress and Hancock counties were the lowest at 92 and 93.
What is the reason for such a disparity?
Medical Reporter Jessa Goddard takes a closer look at the rankings and how rural areas compare to urban ones when it comes to the quality of health care.
The purpose of the ranking is to try to address specific health issues after Tennessee's overall health ranked 47th in the nation.
But where do East Tennessee health officials begin when local counties came in at the very top and the very bottom, and scattered in between?
To rank the counties, the state institute of public health used 34 variables. Determining factors include: availability and access to health care, socioeconomic factors, physical environment, such as air quality, and individual behaviors, like smoking.
East Tennessee Regional Health Doctor Paul Irwin says where you live is directly connected to how healthy you are.
"We know that access to healthcare is certainly tied to geographic isolation, so the farther out counties are from urban areas, the greater the access problems they have," Dr. Irwin.
But Irwin says it's at the individual household level where health happens or doesn't happen.
After all, 80 percent of the causes of death are related to individual behaviors.
That's why the regional health office is trying to target people early.
To combat low birth weight, officials began a smoking cessation program for low income, pregnant women.
And to fight the battle of the bulge, they've implemented nutrition programs in public schools.
Now, these rankings will help public health officials, at the local level, target more specific areas of improvement.
"We also know that health inequities exist between and amongst our counties and in that sense the report doesn't provide a new window in understanding why those health inequities exist," says Dr. Irwin.
State health officials say the rankings are a prescription for public health.
At the individual level, to make good decisions about your personal health.
And at the state level, to bring about changes in state law for the good of everyone.
The state institute of public health was formed this year to help build up the public health work force, which is expected to decline by 50 percent in the next five years, as current workers retire.
Though, public health officials say regardless of this county-by-county ranking, the bottom line is there's something every one of us can do to improve our health.
Here are the overall rankings, from first to last:
54. Van Buren
Source: the Tennessee Institute of Public Health
Copyright 2006 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.