There are reasons we live where we do.  Hunterdon and Somerset offer some of the healthiest living in New Jersey.  This is because of their access to medical care, their educational achievement, and their active lifestyle.

Falls Last Gasp in Morris County

Fall finishes up its last colors on Patriots Path in Lewis Morris Park in Morristown. Morris County is ranked the healthiest county in New Jersey, according to the latest analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. ADVANCE SUNDAY October 31, 2020Amanda Brown| For NJ Advance Media

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Morris, Hunterdon and Somerset county residents are more likely to be the healthiest people in New Jersey because of their access to medical care, their educational achievement and their active lifestyle, according to an analysis the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released Wednesday.

The annual ranking of healthy counties in America is based on a data analysis by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute that takes into account factors such as lifestyle habits, crime, disease and mortality rates, educational and financial success and the availability of doctors, parks and grocery stores

The foundation encourages elected officials to use the information to make policy decisions that will promote economic stability and healthy living, and make grants available to carry out this mission, Robert Atkins, the foundation’s director for New Jersey Health Initiatives.

Most counties at the top or bottom of the list have held those rankings since the first report was released in 2010. Cumberland, Salem and Camden counties, home to pockets of poverty and unemployment, consistently have been at or close to the bottom.

In an effort to urge community leaders and the public to look beyond the “winners and losers” angle of the report, the authors classified each county in four groups based on their scores, to help frame a conversation around what opportunities exist locally to make communities healthier, Atkins said.

“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been advocating for thinking about the social determinants of health,” Atkins said. “We can’t do much when someone already has diabetes…but we can increase how walkable a community is and improve access to healthier foods. It has to go beyond (the availability) of nurses and doctors — there has to be safe, affordable housing and child care providers.”

“Your zip code matters,” he added

The rankings are based on data largely from 2019 and 2018, predating the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed the lives of 24,000 New Jerseyans since March 2020. Next year’s report will reflect the pandemic’s impact. But the authors note that the historical data “provide the context for the systemic inequities that have influenced the health of communities long before COVID-19.”

State and national data show the pandemic has disproportionately affected people who hold lower-paying service jobs, for instance. “These gaps in opportunity have to be addressed if we want a fair, inclusive and equitable recovery from the pandemic,” according to the report.

Here are the rankings, from least healthy to healthiest:

The Least-Healthy Counties

The premature death rate — measured by the number of years lost by people who do not live beyond age 75 — is very high in these five counties compared to the statewide average. There are notably more smokers and sedentary people, as well as people who do not complete high school or obtain a GED. Violent crime is at least twice the statewide average.

  • Cumberland County
  • Salem County
  • Camden County
  • Atlantic County
  • Essex County

The Lower-Middle Range Counties:

Smoking and premature death rates are higher in these five counties than the statewide average. Few commonalities exist across the group. The teen birth rate, for instance, is higher than the statewide average in Cape May, Mercer and Passaic counties, but is below the average in Gloucester and Burlington counties. There is a severe shortage of mental health providers in Cape May, Passaic and Gloucester but not so in Burlington and Mercer counties compared to statewide per capita data.

  • Cape May County
  • Gloucester County
  • Passaic County
  • Burlington County
  • Mercer County

The Higher-Middle Range Counties:

Exercise opportunities are ample in these six counties, so not surprisingly fewer people are sedentary. But only Monmouth County residents had their pick of more primary care doctors and mental health providers than the statewide average. Only Hudson and Union counties had fewer residents complete high school compared to the statewide average. These two urban counties also reported more severe housing problems, such as overcrowding, excessive rent cost or a lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities than the state average.

  • Warren County
  • Ocean County
  • Hudson County
  • Union County
  • Sussex County
  • Monmouth County

Healthiest Counties:

These five counties have been at or near the top of the rankings every year. Residents in these counties are less likely to smoke, be obese and have better access primary care doctors and dentists than the statewide average. They exceed the average high school graduation and college attendance rates. They live longer lives, and reside in communities where child poverty and crime are the lowest in New Jersey. Every county but Middlesex reported more binge-drinkers than the statewide average.

  • Middlesex County
  • Bergen County
  • Somerset County
  • Hunterdon County
  • Morris County

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