By Brenda Flanagan
“The county health rankings show us that good health includes more than just medical care,” said Michelle Larkin, associate vice president for programs at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Researchers say if you smoke, binge drink and overeat — plus you’re chronically unemployed — you’re more likely to live in Cumberland or Essex counties, that’s according to the seventh annual national county health rankings compiled by the University of Wisconsin and New Jersey’s Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“This year’s ranking shows that health is getting worse in rural counties. It shows that one in five rural counties has seen increases in premature deaths over the past decade,” Larkin said.
For seven years, rural Cumberland County’s had an unenviable lock on last place — as New Jersey’s least healthy county — followed by Essex, Camden and Atlantic. The study examines some 35 different factors to determine the rankings.
“Things like safe places to play, access to healthy food, access to health care, housing, a good job, good education — all of those things influence our health, and how long we live and how well we feel while we’re doing it,” Larkin said.
Hunterdon — once again — tops the list of New Jersey’s healthiest counties, which also include Morris, Somerset and Bergen. All of them rank higher in income and education levels.
Most-improved county — Hudson, which jumped from 16th up to 12th place on the list by, among other things, lowering its number of premature deaths.
Researchers also found health is linked to sleep deprivation.
“This year’s rankings show that one in three adults don’t get enough sleep. They don’t get at least seven hours of sleep a night. We know that insufficient sleep is tied to depression, it’s tied to stress as well as motor vehicle accidents and suicide,” Larkin said.
Researchers say communities should use these rankings as a resource, to help attack the underlying causes of poor health. In fact, New Jersey’s Department of Health recently announced it will focus attention on health challenges in rural counties.
2016 County Health Rankings Key Findings Report