Hunterdon County — where there’s lots of parks and health clubs, an ample pool of doctors, and not much child poverty or unemployment — is home to New Jersey’s healthiest people for the fifth consecutive year, according to a study that will be released today.
There’s nothing more important then economic stability to help foster good health, said James Marks, the foundation’s senior vice president. Factors like income, safety and public safety and education are the among biggest ones in judging the healthiest counties in the report, which also measures people’s behaviors, access to health care and environmental quality.
"Economics is really important, directly and indirectly. You get better housing and access to quality food," Marks said. "A higher income family is more apt to send children to better schools." The other counties determined New Jersey’s healthiest are Somerset, Morris, Bergen and Middlesex. The least healthy counties also include Essex, Atlantic, Salem and Camden.
The report found:
• Essex County residents are nearly twice as likely to die prematurely than those who live in Hunterdon County.
• Union County, the tenth-healthiest, has double the violent crime rate as its neighbor, Middlesex County, which ranked fifth overall.
• Monmouth and Ocean counties are sixth and seventh healthiest, respectively, but Ocean has twice as many poor children and 9 percent fewer college graduates.
It’s difficult to shake up the rankings year by year, Marks acknowledged. But government officials in counties across the country have used the foundation’s data to advocate for public projects that encourage healthy living. For example, The United Way received a grant to hold community meetings and rally support for improving early childhood education, based on the need identified by the county rankings, Marks said. "What we are seeing and excited about is over the last few years, this is serving as a call of action to leaders in the state," Marks said. "We are in this together and we need to create a culture of health. This data exists, and we’re making it visible in a standardized way and putting it in the hands of the community." The foundation says the findings can be used to make improvements even in counties that have gotten good health grades. Somerset County, for example, ranks second healthiest — largely because of the benefits of wealth and relatively few people who are out of work and don’t have insurance. But Somerset ranks last for environmental factors such as drinking water and air quality violations, as well as long commutes to work. Public officials could decide to tackle these problems now that they have been identified and compared to the rest of the state, Marks said. "These rankings really can help a community decide what to work on when they have a discussion local leaders," Marks said. The foundation conducts the research project with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute using the most recent government data, ranging from 2010 to 2013, according to the report. Leaders of the foundation, public health officials and lawmakers will discuss the findings at a Statehouse news conference this morning. The report may be found here. New Jersey healthy county rankings:
Content gathered & updated by the Bergen Review Media team.