By: Kimberly Redmond
For the second year in a row, Morris County was named the healthiest in New Jersey, according to a recently released study.
The annual County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report, which is compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI) with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), analyze the healthiest counties in America.
The rankings aim to provide a snapshot of how people’s health is influenced by the communities they live and work in. Counties were analyzed on dozens of factors that influence well being, such as food, education, jobs, housing, economics and public safety.
“Where New Jerseyans live, learn, work and play influences their health, and we know having safe, secure housing is a critical social determinant of health,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnaha said in a statement.
According to the 2019 rankings, the five healthiest counties in New Jersey, starting with the healthiest, are Morris, followed by Hunterdon, Somerset, Bergen and Middlesex. The five counties in the poorest health, starting with the least healthy, are Cumberland, Camden, Salem, Atlantic and Essex.
The five unhealthiest counties, the report found, each lacked enough safe and affordable housing for low-income residents, which reinforces the belief that when there’s a lack of appropriate homes, poor health is more prevalent.
According to the report, 19% of residents in New Jersey spend more than half their income on housing, making it difficult to afford healthy food, medication and transportation.
The state’s health commissioner said officials believe the recent increase that was approved for New Jersey’s minimum wage rate could help a bit.
Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said, “It’s unacceptable that so many individuals and families face barriers to health because of what they have to spend on housing. This leaves them with fewer dollars to keep their families healthy. Imagine the stress and pain that come with unplanned moves. We are all healthier and stronger together when everyone has access to safe and affordable housing, regardless of the color of their skin or how much money they make.”
Morris beat out New Jersey’s other 20 counties in several measures of health, including life expectancy and clinical care, and came in second on criteria such as quality of life.
The county also ranked highly for its air quality, low violent crime rates and physical activity level of its residents.
The sole area where Morris County scored poorly was in the “physical environment” category, mainly due to commuting habits. About 44 percent of residents have a lengthy commute (longer than 30 minutes) and 79 percent do it alone.
Here are a few key statistics from the report.
Smoking rates: 12% (Morris County), 14% (State)
Obesity rates: 22% (Morris County), 26% (State)
Number of physically inactive residents: 18% (Morris County), 24% (State)
Number of residents who engage in “excessive drinking:” 18% (Morris County), 17% (State)
Rate of residents with aren’t getting enough sleep: 33% (Morris County), 38% (State)
Rate of alcohol impaired driving deaths: 18% (Morris County), 22% (State)
Drug overdose rate: 15% (Morris County), 23% (State)
Diabetes prevalence: 8% (Morris County), 9% (State)
Life expectancy: 82.7 years (Morris County), 80.5 (State)
Median income: $114,300 (Morris County), $80,100 (State)
Rate of residents without insurance: 6% (Morris County), 9% (State)
Unemployment rate: 3.6% (Morris County), 4.6% (State)
Home ownership rate: 75% (Morris County), 64% (State)
High school graduation rate: 95% (Morris County), 91% (State)
Rate of children participating in free/reduced lunch programs: 14% (Morris County), 38% (State)
Rate of residents who have attended college: 80% (Morris County), 70% (State)
The rankings can be accessed by visiting www.countyhealthrankings.org/app/new-jersey/2019/rankings/morris/county/outcomes/overall/snapshot.