A report card released on Tuesday ranking the relative health of people in more than 3,000 U.S. counties showed that those with more college-educated residents had fewer premature deaths and fewer reports of being in poor or fair health.
The study, published by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, only compared counties within their respective states because the data researchers used had been collected using different methods in different areas.
But nationally, better-educated counties also were associated with less smoking, less physical inactivity and obesity, fewer teen births, fewer preventable hospital stays, and a lower number of children in poverty.
The study also found that excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages rates were highest in the northern states such as Wisconsin, while rates of teen births, sexually transmitted diseases and children in poverty are highest in the southern states.
Motor vehicle crash deaths are lowest in the Northeast and upper Midwest, the study found, while unemployment rates are lowest in the Northeast, Midwest and central Plains.
Pat Remington, an associate dean at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health who served as the study's director, said factors such as joblessness and poverty were "absolutely connected" with the wider community's overall health.
"If you're unemployed, you're likely to be without insurance and to have a lot of stress in your life," Remington said.
"You often give up hope and that often leads to substance abuse and other self-destructive behaviors. So all these things are part of a web of health."
The researchers ranked more than 3,000 counties by more than 30 different measures, including quality of healthcare, smoking and obesity rates, and a variety of social and economic factors, including high school graduation rates.
"High school dropout rates may not be directly related to cancer or heart disease, but they are indirectly related," Remington said.
"If you have a community with a high number of high school dropouts, with a high unemployment rate and with children living in poverty, you can absolutely predict that poor health outcomes will be coming down the road."
The rankings are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org.
(Reporting by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Greg McCune)