There remains a strong correlation between income and health, at least in New Jersey’s wealthiest and poorest counties, according to the most recent County Health Rankings report.
Released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, the report found Hunterdon County, which has the highest median household income in the state, also ranked healthiest, while Cumberland, with the lowest income, ranked worst. The report scores counties based on health outcomes — such as premature death, low birth-weight babies, and poor health days — and the factors that influence them — including rates of smoking, obesity, and unemployment.
Some of the counties in the middle of the rankings did move up or down in one of the dozens of measures gauged. Among these was Atlantic County, which, while near the bottom of the rankings statewide, rose two spots from 2015 to rank 18th in health factors. Several county and health officials are planning to gather today in Atlantic City to discuss the results of this seventh annual report.
“We’re really heartened to see Atlantic County’s progress, especially its improvement in premature death, our most important measure of health outcomes,” said Robin Mockenhaupt, the chief of staff for RWJF who also oversees its grantmaking in New Jersey. “In fact, across New Jersey, premature deaths are well below the national average. We hope the new data will help communities across our home state to target and address their most pressing health concerns.”
Atlantic County has implemented a number of initiatives to try to expand health opportunities for residents, including the Care AC coalition, led by AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, which works with several agencies to provide access to healthy foods and create opportunities for physical activity for Atlantic City residents. Care AC is one of 10 first-round recipients for New Jersey Health Initiatives’ Building a Culture of Health in New Jersey — Communities Moving to Action grants, funded by RWJF.
“The Care AC coalition is one of the many we see coming together across the state finding new ways to look at how to improve health in their communities,” said Bob Atkins, director of NJHI, the statewide grantmaking program of RWJF. “Examining all of the many different factors that influence health in any community — from food access to the number of mental-health providers — illustrates why we need to include diverse, cross-sector perspectives to find the best solutions.”
This year’s rankings added six new measures: frequent physical distress, frequent mental distress, drug overdose deaths, two separate measures of residential segregation, and insufficient sleep.
The category measuring sleep habits shows 38 percent of New Jerseyans not getting at least seven hours of sleep a night. The greatest proportion of the sleep-deprived, 42 percent, live in Hudson County, while the most rested are at either end of the state — in Sussex and Cape May counties, 31 percent of residents did not get enough sleep.
Mary Adekunle, clinical director of the Bacharach Sleep Disorders Center in South Jersey, said insufficient sleep is tied to a host of problems, including higher levels of stress, hypertension, heart and kidney disease, motor vehicle accidents, and suicide.
“In children, a sleep disorder can contribute to obesity, bedwetting, nightmares and difficulty in school,” she said.
While the ranking of countywide health outcomes seems to get the most publicity, the report’s goal is to focus attention on improving those factors that can influence a person’s health positively or negatively.
Rankings and the data behind them are available for the entire nation. One key finding from the national data that seems to hold true in New Jersey: Rural counties have the highest rate of premature death.
Disclosure: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides funding for NJ Spotlight’s health coverage.