CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Monongalia County is healthiest and McDowell the least healthy county in West Virginia, according to rankings released Wednesday from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The five healthiest counties are in the northern and eastern parts of the state: Monongalia, Pendleton, Doddridge, Jefferson and Hampshire. The five unhealthiest counties are in coalfield counties in Southern West Virginia: McDowell, Wyoming, Mingo, Logan and Boone.
The county health rankings annually assess nearly every county in all 50 states based on high school graduation rates, obesity, smoking, family and social support and other factors that influence health.
This year's rankings also include the number of dentists per resident and other new measures.
Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director and health officer for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said the rankings are very similar to those from years past. They reinforce what health officials already knew, which is that poverty, unemployment and a lack of education go hand in hand with poor health.
"We can't improve one without the other," Gupta said. "For a lot of people, education is their ticket out of poverty."
Kanawha County ranks 37th in the state; Putnam County ranks ninth.
Gupta said the health of a community is about more than just hospitals.
Improving health will demand that health officials work together with businesses and organizations from all sectors, Gupta said.
"Improvements and changes in health always begin from the ground up," Gupta said.
Ted Krafczyk, public information officer for the Monongalia County Health Department, said the county's high ranking reflects efforts from community organizations and hospitals, as well as local, state and federal agencies that promote good health.
Monongalia County has biking and walking trails where residents can exercise, he said. The county's low unemployment rate also has a positive effect on health, he said.