Perhaps the worst part of the recent study finding most Northeast Pennsylvania counties rank near the bottom of the state in measures of good health, is that so many of the contributing factors are related to lifestyle choices.

The national study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute found that among the state's 67 counties, Sullivan County ranked 64th, Luzerne ranked 57th, Lackawanna, 58th; Susquehanna, 52nd; and Wyoming, 54th. Wayne County was 30th; Monroe County was 31st. Bradford County did better and came in at 27th. But there is still room for improvement here too.

This isn't just a matter of public policy because health is, fundamentally, a personal issue at least partially subject to individual control. The counties that scored poorly, for example, generally had above-average rates for physical inactivity, smoking, and binge- and heavy drinking. Those factors translate into major health issues, such as high rates of certain cancers, diabetes and heart and respiratory diseases.

Health advocacy organizations can help educate the public about the risks of smoking, obesity and drinking. Governments can help by maintaining school physical education programs and offering nutritious school lunches, and by banning smoking in all public places, including casinos and all work places.

But ultimately, more folks in all of Northeast Pennsylvania must recognize that their health is in their hands.

The County Health Rankings show the rank of the health of nearly every county in the nation and illustrate that much of what affects health occurs outside of the doctor's office. The Rankings help counties understand what influences how healthy residents are and how long they will live. The Rankings look at a variety of measures that affect health such as the rate of people dying before age 75, high school graduation rates, unemployment, limited access to healthy foods, air and water quality, income, and rates of smoking, obesity and teen births. Based on data available for each county, the Rankings are unique in their ability to measure the overall health of each county in all 50 states on the many factors that influence health, and they have been used to garner support among government agencies, healthcare providers, community organizations, business leaders, policymakers, and the public for local health improvement initiatives.