ZIP Codes by Rural and Urban Groupings

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Where people live, and the health-related characteristics of their communities, has a significant impact on the health and health outcomes of residents. Differences in health care quality and outcomes for rural and urban populations has been a focus of national priority and attention. These differences can be attributed to a number of factors, including socioeconomic conditions, geography, health care access, utilization and cost, and the distribution of providers and health services.

Using an established model, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison distinguished the unique health-related characteristics of rural and urban ZIP codes across Wisconsin to identify important factors (e.g. health care providers, insurance status, poverty) that contribute to health. This results in six groups of Rural and Urban ZIP codes in Wisconsin that have different levels of health-related characteristics:

  • Rural Underserved
  • Rural
  • Rural Advantaged
  • Urban Underserved
  • Urban
  • Urban Advantaged


In the 2019 Wisconsin Health Disparities Report, differences in health care quality and outcomes by rural and urban areas were reported, though results were limited due to the use of only two categories to describe rural and urban areas. The 2020 Wisconsin Health Disparities Report: Rural and Urban Populations, expands on the findings from the 2019 Report and presents six new and distinct groupings of rural and urban areas that more accurately reflect health care capacity, insured rate, education, economic status, and health status of Wisconsin residents.

Who should use this toolkit?

This toolkit is intended for health systems, researchers, public health practitioners, and policy makers.

What does the toolkit contain?

The toolkit contains new and distinct rural and urban groupings for ZIP codes in Wisconsin.

How should these tools be used?

Stakeholders can use the geographic groupings to understand the health-related characteristics of where people live to support in the development of programs and interventions. Health care providers can use these geographic groupings to identify ways to better treat patients based on the characteristics of where patients live.

Development of this toolkit

The ZIP Codes by Rural and Urban Groupings toolkit was developed by healthcare analysts and researchers at the Health Innovation Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Funding Organization

Wisconsin Partnership Program

The Wisconsin Partnership Program (WPP) was established at the School of Medicine and Public Health in 2004 through a generous and visionary endowment gift from Blue Cross and Blue Shield United of Wisconsin’s conversion to a stock insurance corporation. Its mission is to improve the public health needs of Wisconsin and reduce health disparities through initiatives in research, education and community partnerships. The Wisconsin Health Disparities Report was funded by WPP through a grant to HIP and WCHQ.


  1. Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality and the University of Wisconsin Health Innovation Program. Wisconsin Health Disparities Report, 2019, Appendix.
  2. Bonham-Werling J, DeLonay AJ, Stephenson K, Hendricks KA, Bednarz L, Weiss JM, Gigot M, Smith MA. Using Statewide Electronic Health Record and Influenza Vaccination Data to Plan and Prioritize COVID-19 Vaccine Outreach and Communications in Wisconsin Communities. Am J Public Health. 2021 Dec;111(12):2111-2114.

Toolkit Citation

Health Innovation Program. ZIP Codes by Rural and Urban Groupings Toolkit (Model 2b). Health Innovation Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Madison, WI; 2024.

About the Authors

The ZIP Codes by Rural and Urban Groupings Toolkit was built by staff at the Health Innovation Program at the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Medicine & Public Health. The mission of the Health Innovation Program is to transform healthcare delivery and population health across the state and nation through health systems research that partners University of Wisconsin faculty with healthcare and community organizations.