Hunterdon County tops the list of New Jersey’s healthiest counties for the eight consecutive year, according to a report released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
In 2016, Warren County was tenth and moved to ninth this year. Morris and Sussex Counties remained in the same ranking as 2016.
The 2017 County Health Rankings show premature death rates are rising nationally because of an increase in deaths among 15-44 year-olds. From 2014 to 2015, 85 percent of the increase in premature deaths can be attributed to a swift increase in deaths among these younger Americans. The Rankings Key Findings Report reveals that while myriad issues contributed to the rise, the drug overdose epidemic is the leading cause of death among 25- to 44-year-olds and is a clear driver of this trend. Drug deaths are also accelerating among 15- to 24-year-olds, but nearly three times as many people in this age group die by homicide, suicide or in motor vehicle crashes.
The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, compare counties within each state on more than 30 health-influencing factors such as education, jobs, and housing. Over the past eight years, the Rankings have become an important vehicle for local communities building a Culture of Health. In addition to the Rankings data, the Roadmaps to Health Action Center and What Works for Health offer a rich collection of tools and evidence-informed strategies that can help communities develop solutions. The program also offers coaches who can provide customized assistance and guidance to local communities working to improve health.
“The County Health Rankings show us that where people live plays a key role in how long and how well they live,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, RWJF president and CEO. “The Rankings allow local leaders to clearly see and prioritize the challenges they face—whether it’s rising premature death rates or the growing drug overdose epidemic—so they can bring community leaders and residents together to find solutions.”
With this year’s exploration of rising premature death and drug overdose rates, stark disparities became apparent from community to community and among racial/ethnic groups:
- A tragic turn in suburbs: Drug overdose deaths are climbing in communities of all shapes and sizes, but a significant shift occurred in the suburbs, which a decade ago had the lowest rates of premature death due to drug overdoses but now have the highest. (The rate increased 5.4%.) Smaller metro and rural counties also have higher rates of premature death due to drug overdoses.
- Differences among racial and ethnic groups: Premature deaths due to drug overdoses were highest among whites and Native Americans in 2015. Premature deaths have consistently been highest among American Indians/Alaskan Natives and blacks. Suicide and homicide rates in 2015 are highest among Asian/Pacific Islanders and blacks, respectively, among those ages 15 to 24.
This year’s Rankings also introduce a new measure focused on young people, those 16 to 24, who are not in school or working. About 4.9 million young people in the United States—1 out of 8—fall into this category. Rates of youth disconnection are higher in rural counties (21.6%), particularly those in the South and West, than in urban ones (13.7%).
“Young adults who are not in school or working represent untapped potential in our communities and our nation that we can’t afford to waste,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, PhD, RN, director of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. “Communities addressing issues such as poverty, unemployment, and education can make a difference creating opportunities for all youth and young adults. The County Health Rankings are an important springboard for conversations on how to do just that.”
The healthiest counties in New Jersey are:
- Hunterdon County
- Morris County
- Somerset County
- Bergen County
- Sussex County
- Middlesex County
- Monmouth County
- Union County
- Warren County
- Ocean County
- Burlington County
- Mercer County
- Hudon County
- Gloucester County
- Passaic County
- Cape May County
- Atlantic County
- Camden County
- Salem County
- Essex County
- Cumberland County
More information may be found at countyhealthrankings.org.
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