Health disparities persist across South Carolina’s most vulnerable counties

COLUMBIA, S.C. (March 31, 2021) — Beaufort is among the healthiest counties in South Carolina and Williamsburg is among the least healthy, according to the annual County Health Rankings, released today by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI). The South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health (IMPH) serves as the lead dissemination agent in South Carolina for the annual County Health Rankings. The Rankings are available at

For more than a decade, the County Health Rankings have examined the multiple factors that impact how long and how well people live. They have shown that there are stark differences in health and opportunity by place. Although the data used to calculate ranks for the 2021 Rankings are from 2019 and earlier and thus do not yet reflect the impact of COVID-19, the pandemic has brought to the forefront the differences in opportunity we see by race, ethnicity and place — differences we must urgently tackle if we want to have a fair, inclusive and equitable recovery for all.

The 2021 Rankings highlight health barriers disproportionately impacting communities of color and families with lower incomes. A new measure featured in this year’s County Health Rankings is broadband access, which serves as a digital lifeline on everything from education and employment to health care opportunities and social connectedness.

As explored in IMPH’s COVID-19 Health Disparities Report released in December 2020, the pandemic has interacted with existing disparities in social and environmental determinants of health, which has magnified its impact — particularly on people of color in South Carolina. Many find themselves in difficult circumstances: living in food deserts without access to broadband internet, computers, or cell phone service.

“Many of the same health challenges persist across South Carolina, particularly among our most vulnerable counties,” says Maya Pack, IMPH executive director. “For example, broadband internet is an essential utility, yet hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians do not have access to this resource. We’re grateful to see federal and state lawmakers prioritizing the expansion of broadband services across the country.”

Through the CARES Act investment, the South Carolina legislature allocated $30 million last year for investing in broadband infrastructure through the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS). In coordination with the South Carolina Department of Commerce (SCDOC), ORS is managing the Rural Broadband Grant Program to provide rural communities with resources to expand their broadband services. This year’s application process opens on April 1. For more information, visit the ORS website.

According to the 2021 Rankings, the five healthiest counties in South Carolina, starting with the most healthy, are Beaufort, followed by York, Charleston, Dorchester and Greenville. The five least healthy counties are Williamsburg, ranked at the bottom of the list, followed by Allendale, Lee, Dillon and Marion.

Released every year by the UWPHI, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Rankings compare the health of all counties within states and call attention to the differences in opportunity to live long and well from one county to the next.

In addition to the county-level data, the Rankings also features What Works for Health, a database of more than 400 evidence-informed strategies to support local changemakers as they take steps toward expanding opportunities. Each strategy is rated for its evidence of effectiveness and likely impact on health disparities. The Take Action Center also provides valuable guidance for communities who want to move with data to action.