Williamson County is home to Texas' healthiest residents, and Marion County is the least healthy in the state, according to the annual County Health Rankings released today by the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute, in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

In this year's rankings, Texas' 10 healthiest counties were largely centered in the Hill Country and North Texas: Williamson, Collin, Denton, Gillespie, Rockwall, Travis, Brazos, Comal, Kendall and Hays. The 10 least healthy counties were largely along Texas' eastern border: Marion, Polk, Trinity, Newton, Orange, Red River, Wheeler, Morris, Nolan and Liberty.

The study found Marion County residents are three times more likely to die prematurely than those in Williamson County. Thirty-five percent of children in Marion County live in poverty, compared with 8 percent in Williamson County. And the high school graduation rate is 85 percent in Williamson County, versus 70 percent in Marion. 

State health advocates say the rankings demonstrate where budget cuts will hit Texas hardest.  

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“Keeping the current investments in public health is crucial for maintaining and improving the health status of Texans,” Klaus Madsen, director of the Texas Health Institute, said in a statement. “At a time when both state and local governments are bracing for budget cuts, we must look at ways public health care be delivered in a higher quality and cost effective manner that provides equity for all Texans."

The rankings are determined by researchers who use several measures to assess overall health, including the rate of people dying before age 75, the percentage of people who report being in fair or poor health, the days people report being in poor physical or mental health, and the rate of low-birth-weight infants. They also consider rates of adult smoking and obesity, alcohol consumption, teen births, availability of primary care providers and access to healthy foods. 

"Where we live matters to our health,” Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a statement. “The good news is that there are things counties can do right away to help their residents lead healthier lives."

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