Last year's rankings, the first of the annual reports, spurred some counties into action. On the County Health Rankings web site, there are stories of what some local governments did after finding out their counties ranked low in their states.
In Wyandotte County, Kan., the mayor of Kansas City, Kan., created a Healthy Communities Initiative and got business leaders and other officials involved in the effort.
"The County Health Rankings were a call to me to say, 'You're not going to be the best community you can be if you don't focus on the health of your community,'" Kansas City Mayor Joe Reardon said.
Public health experts say part of community health initiatives should include better primary care.
"Most illness can be treated or prevented through regular routine medical care, before major interventions are needed. A good primary care provider will also educate patients about healthy lifestyle habits," said Field.
"Laws and policies are our most effective tool in improving the health of communities. Policies that improve the economy, create jobs, support education, et cetera," said Dr. Daniel Blumenthal, associate dean for community health at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. "Also important are those laws and policies directly related to health, such as smoking restrictions and requiring fast-food restaurants to post calorie counts."
In addition, experts say healthier behaviors should start in schools.
"This can include healthy meals, fewer vending machines, and opportunities for exercise. Starting good habits at a young age can have large long-term rewards."
Another set of rankings will be done next year, and then funding for the project runs out. After that, Booske said the Foundation will launch a new program that offers grants to 14 communities around the country to help improve the public's health.