Poor economic conditions -- including high unemployment rates -- combined with unhealthy behaviors have pushed two local counties to the bottom of annual health rankings, according to a new report.
The latest County Health Rankings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released Wednesday show Philadelphia, Pa. and Cumberland County, N.J. are home to their state’s least healthy people.
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Philadelphia has an unemployment rate of 10.8 percent, while a staggering 14.1 percent of Cumberland residents are unemployed. Plus, 27 percent of Philadelphia children and 26 percent of kids in Cumberland County are living in poverty, the report shows.
With fewer funds, it can be difficult for residents to find the income to put towards healthier choices, like nutritious foods or early childhood education, said Michelle Larkin, a RWJF assistant vice president.
“If you are spending half your income on housing, think of the things you are not spending money on,” Larkin added.
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Along with the economic state of each county, the behavior of the population also contributed to their low rankings.
“Health behaviors -- tobacco use, obesity rates -- these are challenges the communities are struggling with,” Larkin said. “But they are changeable.”
More than 20 percent of adults living in Philadelphia and Cumberland counties are smokers and more than 30 percent are obese, or have a body mass index of 30 or more, the ranking showed.
Of the three counties making up Delaware, Kent was ranked last and New Castle first, even though there were not dramatic differences among their populations.
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“The rankings are meant to be a conversation starter,” Larkin said. “In Delaware in particular, it would be important to look at the local data so they can understand the nuances of how the [three counties] can work together and think about using the resources to help all people who live in Delaware.”
Union County in central Pennsylvania was ranked the healthiest county in the Keystone State, with Chester following behind. Hunterdon in central Jersey was the Garden State’s healthiest county.
Residents can choose from a large number of doctors in both Chester and Hunterdon counties, which also boast strong social and economic factors, like a low percentage of children living in poverty and unemployment rates below state levels.
Visit CountyHealthRankings.org to see the full list of rankings for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.