For this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket, we’re turning to a county-by-county listing of health rankings compiled by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The rankings of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties “provide a snapshot of a community’s health and a starting point for investigating and discussing ways to improve health. This guide will help you find and understand the data — in this site and beyond — as you begin to assess your needs and resources, and focus on what’s important,” the foundation’s website explains.
As the foundation notes, “The rankings use more than 30 measures that help communities understand how healthy their residents are today (health outcomes) and what will impact their health in the future. Those health factors include health behaviors (30 percent), clinical care (20 percent), social and economic factors (40 percent) and a county’s physical environment (10 percent).”
With that in mind, based on the foundation’s data, these are the 10 most — and least — healthy counties in Pennsylvania. The top three or four are a reminder that income tends to be destiny.
1. Montgomery County: Turns out life might be better in the ‘burbs after all. Montgomery County has a lower premature death rate than the rest of Pennsylvania; fewer days on average when people experience physical and mental health issues; lower adult smoking (13 percent in MontCo vs. 18 percent statewide) and obesity rates (26 percent in Montgomery County vs. 30 percent statewide); and greater access to exercise opportunities than the rest of the state.
You can read the full rankings list for Montgomery County here.
2. Bucks County: We’ll turn to Montgomery County’s neighbor to the north and east as we continue our top 10. The land of subdivisions and country estates also has a lower premature death rate than the rest of Pennsylvania; fewer poor physical and mental health days; less physical inactivity (19 percent locally vs. 22 percent statewide); and greater access to exercise opportunities (90 percent locally vs. 84 statewide). In addition, Bucks boasts a better high school graduation rate and lower rates of child poverty and violent crime than the rest of the state.
You can read the full rankings list for Bucks County here.
3. Chester County: Philadelphia’s collar counties go three for four in the list, with all the same factors at play as Bucks and Montgomery counties. But Chester does boast high excessive drinking (24 percent locally compared to 21 percent statewide) and alcohol-impaired driving deaths. Forty-three percent of fatal vehicle crashes between 2013 and 2017 involved alcohol, as opposed to 28 percent statewide, the data showed.
You can read the full rankings list for Chester County here.
4. Cumberland County: The bustling county just to the west of Harrisburg has lower adult smoking and obesity rates than the rest of Pennsylvania, as well as good access to primary and clinical care. That’s thanks, no doubt, to the profusion of hospitals in the suburban county. Pinnacle/UPMC and Geisinger/Holy Spirit have hospitals within miles of each other. Penn State/Hershey is building its own hospital in Cumberland County, as well.
You can read the full rankings list for Cumberland County here.
5. Centre County: They are … so healthy. Penn State University’s home turf rounds out the top five with a much lower premature death rate than the rest of Pennsylvania (all those yutes in one place, perhaps?) and less physical inactivity and more access to exercise opportunities.
Centre County does report high rates of excessive drinking (23 percent locally compared to 21 percent for the rest of the state), alcohol-impaired driving deaths (23 percent locally compared to 28 percent statewide), and sexually transmitted infections (414.7 newly diagnosed chlamydia cases per 100,000 people locally compared to 444.7 statewide).
You can read the full rankings list for Centre County here.
The rest of the Top 10.
8. Union County
9. Adams County
10. Lancaster County
The 10 Least Healthy Counties
1. Philadelphia: Residents of the City are in poorer physical and mental health compared to the rest of Pennsylvania. They score lower on the “food environment index” in the report, which is a measure of healthy diet. There’s a greater percentage of adult smokers (20 percent) compared to the rest of the state (18 percent). The adult obesity rate (29 percent) just about tracks the statewide rate of 30 percent. The city has a higher rate of sexually transmitted infections and teen births than the rest of the state. And despite a profusion of primary care physicians, the uninsured rate (10 percent) is higher than the rest of the state (6 percent). The city has high rates of unemployment (6.2 percent) and child poverty (32 percent) compared to the rest of the state, as well as a deeper income inequality gap than the rest of Pennsylvania.
2. Fayette County: We cross the state to the coal country of southwestern Pennsylvania for the next entry on the countdown. Fayette has a higher premature death rate than the rest of Pennsylvania; tracks the state’s rate for people in poor health; and has adult smoking (19-18 percent) and obesity rates (41-30 percent) that track or rival the rest of Pennsylvania. It has a higher rate of physical inactivity and fewer recreational opportunities; and its rates of excessive drinking and alcohol-related driving deaths track the state’s rate. It also has one of the highest teen birth rates in the state.
Read the full report for Fayette County here.
3. Forest County: Despite its bucolic moniker, residents in this rural Pennsylvania county are as physically inactive as the rest of Pennsylvania (21-22 percent), yet have greater access to recreational opportunities (91-84 percent) than the state at-large. Forest has a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the state (6.7-4.2 percent) and a higher percentage of children living in poverty (34-17 percent) than the rest of Pennsylvania.
Read the full report for Forest County here.
4. Potter County: We’ll stay in the Northern Tier for the No. 4 entry on our countdown. Potter County has a high premature death rate; adult smoking (17-18 percent) and obesity rates (32-30 percent) that track the state’s average; greater physical inactivity; and less access to recreational opportunities than the rest of the state.
Read the full report for Potter County here.
5. Greene County: A return to Appalachia to finish out the Top 5. Greene tracks all the negative trends as the rest of Pennsylvania, from adult smoking and obesity rates to the amount of days its residents spend in poor physical and mental health.
Read the full report for Greene County here.
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10. McKean County