2010.02.18 – NEPA counties among state’s least healthy


NEPA counties among state’s least healthy

By Laura Legere (Staff Writer)

Published: February 18, 2010

Six Northeastern Pennsylvania counties rank in the bottom half of the state in terms of healthiness, according to a national study released Wednesday.

The project, developed by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, ranks the overall health of counties in every state based on rates of premature death, poor health and low birth weight. The study also provides a snapshot of the factors that contribute to a community’s health.

Of the state’s 67 counties, Lackawanna ranks 51 in overall health. Luzerne ranks 57; Monroe, 46; Wyoming, 43; and Susquehanna, 41.

Wayne County ranks 62 – one of the lowest in Pennsylvania – while Pike, which shares a border with Wayne, ranks sixth.

“This report shows us that there are big differences in overall health across Pennsylvania’s counties,” said Patrick Remington, M.D., associate dean for public health at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Those discrepancies are “due to many factors,” he said, “ranging from individual behavior to quality of health care, to education and jobs, to access to healthy foods, and to quality of the air.”

Those factors can influence the sharp health disparities that emerge even between neighboring counties, like Wayne and Pike. Wayne has the state’s second-highest premature death rate, for example, while Pike ranks in the lowest 10.

The region fares better in the report’s ranking of heath factors – those elements that influence a community’s health, such as smoking, diet, access to health care, education, income, safety and the environment.

Four of the region’s seven counties rank in the top half of the state in that evaluation, with Lackawanna and Pike in the top 20.

The county health rankings highlight the breadth of factors that influence health, said Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., during a webcast of the report’s unveiling.

“They help tell us a story about the factors that influence how healthy we are and how long we live,” she said. “They tell us that health is more than health care.”

The report’s authors hope the rankings will be a catalyst for change in communities across the country – that community leaders, across all sectors, will use it to learn about and work to change what is making residents unhealthy. Remington called it both a “first step” and a “call to action.”

Daniel West, Ph.D., head of the Department of Health Administration and Human Resources at the University of Scranton, said the report succeeds in that respect: “It really suggests things we should be looking at,” he said.

“Obviously being ranked 51 out of 67 counties in Pennsylvania is not the best,” he said. But he pointed out that many of the factors taken into account in the health rankings are “behavioral, which means they are changeable through behavior.”

And local efforts, including the Healthy Northeast Pennsylvania Initiative, of which West is a part, already exist to gather data and begin programs to target unhealthy behaviors.

“The question is, with limited resources, where do we begin?”