Interview with Dr. Anna Schenck, University of North Carolina

The America’s Health Rankings team spoke with Dr. Anna Schenck of the University of North Carolina to learn how she uses the resources and data provided at AmericasHealthRankings.org. Dr. Schenck serves as Professor of the Practice and Director of the Public Health Leadership Program at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. She is also Chair of the America’s Health Rankings Scientific Advisory Committee.
America’s Health Rankings: How have you used America’s Health Rankings as part of your role at the University of North Carolina?
Dr. Schenck: America’s Health Rankings is an incredible resource for finding consistent, credible data from an outside source. One example of how I’ve used the resources was when I had the opportunity to speak at the Joint Appropriations Committee in front of the North Carolina General Assembly. The committee was interested in learning how North Carolina fared against other states in the South, with a particular interest in the health of children under the age of five. I used America’s Health Rankings data to present a number of different health indicators for six southern states. As we ran through each indicator, I circled the state with the best performance – and not one measure ranked North Carolina as the top performer. This got the attention of legislators, who ultimately allocated an additional $2.5 million in recurring funds to child health issues.
America’s Health Rankings: Why is America’s Health Rankings such a valuable resource for public health leaders in your position, and in peer institutions across the country?
Dr. Schenck: There are a growing number of data sources that those of us in the public health community consult for research, but America’s Health Rankings truly has some differentiating features. First, the credibility of the report that our advisory committees provide is so important. We are always looking at potential new measures to add and how to update the models. Second, we’ve consistently published our Annual Report for nearly thirty years, and while measures and methodology change, you can see a picture of the nation’s health since 1990. Finally, the state comparisons that you can do with our database are incredibly valuable – both for overall health and individual measures. The model forces you to consider all the factors that could be at play across the health of the state. For example, quitting smoking can help prevent chronic diseases, but social determinants – poverty, employment, policies – all impact whether you smoke in the first place.
America’s Health Rankings: What is the role of the Scientific Advisory Committee in developing and validating America’s Health Rankings resources?
Dr. Schenck: The Scientific Advisory Committee helps identify which measures should be evaluated for each report and how to put the rankings into a scientifically-valid single number that will determine a state’s rank. When I first started in this role, I was in charge of the Annual Report Scientific Advisory Committee because that was the only report we had. But over time, we've added additional reports, and for each report we have formed an advisory committee that focuses on measures specific to the report’s population.
America’s Health Rankings: How has America’s Health Rankings evolved since being established in 1990?
Dr. Schenck: From the very beginning, America’s Health Rankings was designed as a tool to prompt conversation. When it first started, the model was innovative at the time, because of the inclusion of the social determinants of health. There was a focus on the clinical factors associated with care because everyone thinks of health care when you think of health. But even from its earliest days, it was designed to highlight the other factors in addition to clinical care that are important for a healthy population and for healthy communities.
About America’s Health Rankings
America’s Health Rankings® is the longest-running annual assessment of the nation’s health on a state-by-state basis, checking the pulse of the nation for nearly 30 years. The platform provides data to serve as a benchmark for states and promotes data-driven discussions on opportunities to promote the health and well-being of our country. Policy-makers, public health officials and community leaders are encouraged to use from America’s Health Rankings to better understand the challenges and progress made within their states and across the nation.

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