South Jersey continues to be the least healthy region in the state, according to an annual report that studies the health of the nation’s counties.
Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Camden and Gloucester counties hold five of the bottom seven positions on the list, the report says.
Cumberland County is the least healthy county in New Jersey for the fifth consecutive year. The report shows the county places last or close to last in categories that measure issues related to length and quality of life; health behaviors such as excessive drinking and adult smoking and adult obesity; clinical care; and social and economic factors that include child poverty, education and violent crime.
While Cumberland County officials are getting used to the bad health statistics within their borders, they said Monday that things have to improve.
“The health of our residents is a top priority for us,” said Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joe Derella. “And while we are making progress on some fronts, we’re obviously not making enough. We can be healthier. We’re determined to turn these things around.”
Derella said that means in part making better use of the Cumberland Health and Wellness Alliance, an initiative that started four years ago with Inspira Health Network and 19 community-based organizations. The program is designed to help Cumberland County residents make healthier food and lifestyle choices.
The report by the Princeton-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute shows that Ocean County is the only South Jersey county to break the top ten. Ocean County is the seventh-healthiest county in the state, an improvement from last year’s eighth-place finish.
Cape May County’s 15th-place finish is a one-place improvement over its 2013 ranking. Atlantic County dropped from 17th to 19th place.
The only South Jersey county to move significantly in the rankings was Salem County, which jumped two places on the list to finish in 18th place.
The study measures the health of nearly all counties in the nation and ranks them within states. Researchers said the statistics come from a variety of national and state data resources and are standardized and combined by using what they call “scientifically informed weights.”
Nationally, researchers said that while Americans are living longer and healthier lives, there are large gaps between the least healthy and healthiest counties.
The least healthy counties have premature death, child poverty and teen birth rates twice as high as those in healthy counties, the report shows. Alarming national trends also include child poverty rates increasing from 18 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2012, and an increase in sexually transmitted diseases from 2009 to 2012 it shows.
The results for South Jersey:
Residents in Atlantic and Cumberland counties have a higher percentage of poor or fair health days than the state average of 15 percent.
Adult smoking rates in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties exceed the state average of 16 percent.
The state’s adult obesity rate of 25 percent is exceeded in Atlantic, Cape May Cumberland and Ocean counties. Cumberland County’s adult obesity rate of 33 percent is the largest of the four counties.
Atlantic and Cumberland counties have high school graduation rates that are less than the state average of 87 percent.
Child poverty rates in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties are all greater than the state average of 15 percent. The figure reaches 26 percent in Cumberland County and 21 percent in Atlantic County.
The report also links health with economics — a better economy generally means a healthier county.
Statistics from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development show Cape May County’s 16.1 percent unemployment rate was the highest in the state in January, the latest month for which statistics are available.
The statistics show New Jersey’s two other highest unemployment rates for the month as 12.5 percent in Atlantic County and 12.3 percent in Cumberland County.
Contact Thomas Barlas: