When it comes to public health, the extremes of New York state can be found right here in the Capital Region, sometimes in counties that share a border, according to findings released Wednesday.
Saratoga County ranks fifth-healthiest out of the state’s 62 counties, while right next-door, Hamilton County ranks 58 and Fulton County ranks 56, according to a new public health study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Livingston County in Western New York earns the No. 1 ranking, according to the study, while the Bronx ranks last. Rates of premature death, as determined by the study’s researchers, are a large factor in the rankings.
Schenectady County ranks 39, with good ratings in social and economic factors and access to health care providers, but with below-average findings for people generally feeling healthy and a higher-than-average 8.8 percent of babies born underweight.
Other county health rankings in the Capital Region included Schoharie, No. 9; Albany, No. 30; Rensselaer, No. 34; and Montgomery, No. 47.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said it released the study because it wants to highlight the continuing health differences between communities as a tool for local policy makers to use to design programs to improve the lives of their residents.
“Large gaps remain between the least healthy counties and healthiest counties,” foundation officials said in a news release. “For instance, the least healthy counties have twice the death rates and twice as many children living in poverty and teen births as the nation’s healthiest counties.”
The analysis leading to the comparisons — which were done for every county in the United States — were a collaboration between the foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, part of an annual effort to monitor the nation’s health.
“The County Health Rankings are a starting point for change, helping communities come together, identify priorities and create solutions that will help all in our diverse society live healthier lives, now and for generations to come,” said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The factors used in judging a county’s overall health quality include number of premature deaths, quality of life, health behaviors, access to clinic care, social and economic factors and physical environment. The study did not overtly consider commonly cited community health factors such as average age or median household income.
Within the categories the researchers considered such factors as unemployment levels, whether children live in poverty or in single-parent households, whether people drive to work alone or have a long commute, average levels of education, adult obesity, percentage of people smoking and incidence of low birth weights.
Saratoga County earned its high ranking based on a strong social and economic factors like high levels of education and good marks for access to medical care. It could have ranked higher if not for the number of people with long commutes to work, which the foundation said contributes to inactivity.
Fulton County, ranked No. 56, suffered from low scores on social and economic factors like single-parent households and poor access to medical care compared to other counties. The county also rated poorly in quality of life, with 18 percent of the population having poor or fair health. Instances of people having poor health days were twice the state average and nearly three times the national average.
The rankings, along with the county-to-county comparisons of the factors used to rank the counties, are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on doing scholarly research concerning health issues.