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The Healthiest Counties in Massachusetts

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

 

Worcester County has once again ranked 9th out of 14 counties in the Commonwealth in overall health outcomes, according to the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps.

The study, which has been compiling data for the past five years now, is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Several factors were considered by the organization when analyzing the data including health outcomes like length and quality of life, and health factors such as health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment. 

See the slideshow below to see which Massachusetts counties are the healthiest in the state.

Although Worcester County ranks in the bottom half of the rankings list, small improvements have been made in past few years. Health behaviors like adult obesity and smoking are areas that continue to plague Worcester County, while small improvements have been made to the categories of premature deaths and overall clinical care.

National Study, Local Initiative

County Health Rankings and Roadmaps examine the nation in terms of states and districts but the ultimate goal for the research is to benefit individual communities by promoting key areas that require awareness.

“We really wanted to send a message that where you live matters,” said Kate Konkle, an associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. “A lot of things are affected by where you live; we know that a lot more goes into determining public health than looking at the hospitals and doctors of a particular county.”

County Health Rankings and Roadmaps was designed to look at two key areas of research: rankings in health outcomes and rankings in health factors. Health outcomes determine how healthy a particular county is by looking at how long people live and how they feel when they are alive. Health factors analyze health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical factors to determine a county’s potential to be healthy in the future. 

Overall Health Rankings in Health Outcomes - the darker the color, the lower the county ranks

A lower ranking in either category could be seen as an insult but Konkle feels like districts should look to the rankings as an opportunity for change because the rankings were put in place to identify key areas of need for a community. If a particular category is hindering a county’s ranking then it becomes obvious that it should be a key focus area for policy and awareness.

“We hope that these rankings are used as a conversation starter,” said Konkle. “We want for people within a community to be able to look at what they are doing right for their health and what needs to be worked on in the future so that changes can be made on a local level.”

Looking Toward the Future 

Recognizing that the future health of the nation resides in the hands of today’s youth, Worcester is one of many cities across the nation targeting children with a variety of health programs and campaigns aimed at raising health awareness at a school level. 

“I can recall my days as a school principal where I would reject serving cereals that were high in sugar to my students,” said John Monfredo, a member of the Worcester School Committee. Monfredo was the principal at Belmont Community School in Worcester from 1984-2004. “I think the gesture may have been a little before its time, but I’m happy that we are now focusing on the health of our students.”

Monfredo points to a variety of initiatives taking place throughout the city that have helped the overall health and awareness of children, including increased opportunities for exercise, training students how to do CPR, having teachers speak of the importance of not smoking, and bringing in farm fresh fruits and vegetables into the school’s cafeterias. 

While some programs are offered at all schools in the Worcester Public School District, others are only offered in one or a few. Although these programs may have a limited reach now, it is the goal of the Worcester Public School District to expand the ones that are particularly effective. 

“It’s not every day that we can say that a club at a school has made a difference in the school and in the community,” said Monfredo, referring to the P.E.A.C.H. club that began at Doherty High School in 2007. “The students are energetic and truly enjoy making a difference in their community. This is a program that we certainly hope to expand in the future.”

P.E.A.C.H. (which stands for Promoting Exercise and Continuous Health) is a club where students work to gain optimal nutritional and physical activity opportunities for all students in Worcester Public Schools as well as the community as a whole. Started by a $3,000 grant from Massachusetts Action for Healthy Kids, the club continues to grow. 

Overall Rankings in Health Factors - the darker the color, the lower the ranking

The club has also helped to implement changes throughout the Worcester community. Some of these changes include bringing up the idea of smoothies as a lunch option to give children more fruits in their diet, helping the Student Health Center increase membership, volunteering with the Community Harvest Program, and donating crops to the school cafeteria and local food pantries. 

Monfredo has noticed that awareness on a national level has helped in certain ways - like the nation’s decreased smoking rate - but he acknowledges local programs and initiatives like P.E.A.C.H. as some of the most important to help the overall health of the nation.

“Change needs to happen on a local level,” said Monfredo. “Awareness of a healthy lifestyle plays a major role in the health of students. We try to make sure that we monitor what we are giving students so that they can be healthy. All of this goes hand in hand with creating a healthy student body.”

Problems with County Comparison?

Worcester County has consistently ranked toward the bottom of both lists published by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps for all five years that the lists have been compiled. 

Worcester County ranked 9th in the years 2010, 2013 and 2014 in terms of overall health rankings in health outcomes, while they ranked 10th in 2011 and 2012. In the category of overall rankings in health factors, Worcester County has ranked 11th every year the list has been compiled. 

While the trend certainly suggests that Worcester County has stabilized as one of the least healthy counties in Massachusetts, some cities have said that county studies fail to point out the growth of specific communities within the district. 

“The issue that I have with the county rankings is that it is hard to measure a particular city’s growth” said Derek Brindisi, Director of Public Health for the city of Worcester. “There are so many different data points that are affected by different areas of a particular county.”

Brindisi noted that a study that analyzes counties as opposed to city-by-city data has the potential to gloss over areas that communities are working hard to fix. 

“Some trends among health in Worcester are better and some are worse,” said Brindisi. “Historically, Worcester has always had a high smoking rate which can be attributed partially to the urban communities. Issues like smoking are things that we continue to research and try to work on in the future.”

Brindisi pointed to Worcester’s own health assessment report, the Greater Worcester Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), as a more comprehensive way to look at the overall health of the city.

The report, which began compiling data in 2012, is a partnership among the City of Worcester Division of Public Health, UMass Memorial, Common Pathways, and over 90 other organizations. The goal of the report is to compile and analyze health related data in Worcester so that key areas of weakness can be addressed. 

“We are trying to measure policy and environmental change,” said Brindisi. “The city of Worcester is doing a lot to improve health in the community, or ultimate goal is to be the healthiest city in New England by 2020!”
 

 

Related Slideshow: Most and Least Healthy Counties in Massachusetts

Using data from the 2014 County Health Rankings compiled by the University of Wisconsin Public Health Institute, GoLocal ranked each of Massachusetts' 14 counties from least to most healthy according to health outcomes. 

Health outcomes measure two factors: how long people live (length of life) and how healthy people feel while alive (quality of life).  

The report also ranks health factors, which measures health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic, and physical environment factors.

Prev Next

14. Hampden County

Population: 465,923

Median Household Income: $48,386

Health Outcomes Ranking: 14 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: 15%
  • Low Birthweight: 8.6%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 14 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 19%
  • Adult Obesity: 29%
  • Physical Inactivity: 27%
  • Excessive Drinking: 19%

 

Access to healthcare professionals

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 1,368:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 1,408:1

 

Full Report

Prev Next

13. Suffolk County

Population: 744,426

Median Household Income: $50,884

Health Outcomes Ranking: 13 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: 17%
  • Low Birthweight: 9.2%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 12 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 15%
  • Adult Obesity: 22%
  • Physical Inactivity: 22%
  • Excessive Drinking: 19%

 

Access to healthcare professionals

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 693:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 638:1

 

Full Report

Prev Next

12. Bristol County

Population: 551,082

Median Household Income: $53,670

Health Outcomes Ranking: 12 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: 15%
  • Low Birthweight: 8.2%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 13 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 20%
  • Adult Obesity: 29%
  • Physical Inactivity: 28%
  • Excessive Drinking: 20%

 

Access to healthcare professionals

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 1,906:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 1,790:1

 

Full Report

Prev Next

11. Berkshire County

Population: 130,016

Median Household Income: $46,660

Health Outcomes Ranking: 11 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: 12%
  • Low Birthweight: 8.1%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 9 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 17%
  • Adult Obesity: 22%
  • Physical Inactivity: 21%
  • Excessive Drinking: 21%

 

Access to healthcare professionals

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 887:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 1,417:1

 

Full Report

Prev Next

10. Plymouth County

Population: 499,759

Median Household Income: $72,795

Health Outcomes Ranking: 10 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: 11%
  • Low Birthweight: 7.7%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 10 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 18%
  • Adult Obesity: 25%
  • Physical Inactivity: 23%
  • Excessive Drinking: 21%

 

Access to healthcare professionals

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 1,626:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 1,538:1

 

Full Report

Prev Next

9. Worcester County

Population: 806,163

Median Household Income: $62,318

Health Outcomes Ranking: 9 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: 12%
  • Low Birthweight: 7.4%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 11 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 18%
  • Adult Obesity: 26%
  • Physical Inactivity: 23%
  • Excessive Drinking: 21%

 

Access to healthcare professionals:

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 971:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 1,590:1

 

Full Report

Prev Next

8. Franklin County

Population: 71,540

Median Household Income: $54,159

Health Outcomes Ranking: 8 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: 10%
  • Low Birthweight: 7.0%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 8 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 19%
  • Adult Obesity: 25%
  • Physical Inactivity: 19%
  • Excessive Drinking: 18%

 

Access to healthcare professionals:

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 1,523:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 1,741:1

 

Full Report

Prev Next

7. Barnstable County

Population: 215,423

Median Household Income: $58,616

Health Outcomes Ranking: 7 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: 8%
  • Low Birthweight: 6.9%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 4 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 14%
  • Adult Obesity: 28%
  • Physical Inactivity: 18%
  • Excessive Drinking: 18%

 

Access to healthcare professionals:

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 1,068:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 1,143:1

 

Full Report

Prev Next

6. Essex County

Population: 755,618

Median Household Income: $67,408

Health Outcomes Ranking: 6 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: 13%
  • Low Birthweight: 7.6%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 7 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 14%
  • Adult Obesity: 24%
  • Physical Inactivity: 22%
  • Excessive Drinking: 19%

 

Access to healthcare professionals:

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 1,272:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 1,282:1

 

Full Report

Prev Next

5. Hampshire County

Population: 159,795

Median Household Income: $58,206

Health Outcomes Ranking: 5 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: 10%
  • Low Birthweight: 6.5%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 3 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 12%
  • Adult Obesity: 22%
  • Physical Inactivity: 17%
  • Excessive Drinking: 20%

 

Access to healthcare professionals:

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 698:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 1,858:1

 

Full Report

Prev Next

4. Nantucket County

Population: 10,298

Median Household Income: $70,286

Health Outcomes Ranking: 4 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: N/A
  • Low Birthweight: 5.3%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 6 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 15%
  • Adult Obesity: 24%
  • Physical Inactivity: 20%
  • Excessive Drinking: 26%

 

Access to healthcare professionals:

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 2,028:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 1,295:1

 

Full Report

Prev Next

3. Norfolk County

Population: 681,845

Median Household Income: $80,192

Health Outcomes Ranking: 3 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: 9%
  • Low Birthweight: 7.3%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 1 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 12%
  • Adult Obesity: 20%
  • Physical Inactivity: 20%
  • Excessive Drinking: 19%

 

Access to healthcare professionals:

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 812:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 927:1

 

Full Report

Prev Next

2. Dukes County

Population: 17,041

Median Household Income: $56,784

Health Outcomes Ranking: 2 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: N/A
  • Low Birthweight: 5.0%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 5 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 12%
  • Adult Obesity: 20%
  • Physical Inactivity: 20%
  • Excessive Drinking: 26%

 

Access to healthcare professionals:

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 882:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 1,908:1

 

Full Report

Prev Next

1. Middlesex County

Population: 1,537,215

Median Household Income: $81,924

Health Outcomes Ranking: 1 of 14

  • Poor or Fair Health: 9%
  • Low Birthweight: 7.5%

 

Health Factors Ranking: 2 of 14

Percent of population engaging in:

  • Adult Smoking: 11%
  • Adult Obesity: 23%
  • Physical Inactivity: 22%
  • Excessive Drinking: 18%

 

Access to healthcare professionals:

  • Primary Care Physicians Ratio: 814:1
  • Dentists Ratio: 1,165:1

 

Full Report

 
 

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