In an earlier post we reported on a study that found only 7 percent of baby boomers wanted to live in a central city location, and a quarter of them wanted to live in a rural area. Two-thirds wanted to live in the suburbs. Perhaps they should have a look at the County Health Rankings prepared by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which just released its 2016 report.

Because according to this data, if you want to die young, the place to live is in the country. And if you want to stay alive and stay healthier longer, go for the big city. The study's lead author, Bridget Catlin, tells CNN:

“Urban residents definitely have better access to health care, but there's far more to good health than just that. People have an impression of rural areas as healthy living and the great outdoors, but there aren't sidewalks. It can actually be more difficult to get out and exercise. Urban can offer more recreation facilities and more safe options.”

premature death rateThe deeper the red, the earlier you're dead. (Photo: County Health Rankings)

The study defines premature death as death due to any cause before the age of 75. Catlin explains: "We look at the number of years of life lost and more heavily weight deaths at an earlier age, because they're typically more preventable.”

health factorsFollow the Orange 'U' ball through the rankings. (Photo: County Health Rankings)

In fact, the large urban center is best in almost every key health factor except violent crime, and rural living is worst in just about every factor except crime and commuting time. The larger suburbs don’t fare too well either, but surprisingly, they do a bit better than smaller cities. Rural counties have higher rates of smoking, obesity, child poverty and teen births.

The report’s key findings:

  • Rural counties have consistently had the highest premature death rates and, following a few years of improvement, overall rates of premature death are increasing.
  • Nearly one in five rural counties has experienced worsening premature death rates over the past decade.
  • Large urban counties have seen the greatest declines in premature death rates since the late 1990s.
  • Unlike other types of counties, nearly all large urban counties have consistently shown improved premature death rates.
  • There is no single factor that explains the significant differences in health between rural and other types of counties.

Ben Tinker of CNN concludes that “At the end of the day, it's healthy individuals who make up a healthy community, but also a healthy community that affords us the opportunity to get and stay healthy in the first place.” The study appears to confirm that those healthy communities are in the cities.

Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.