Columbia County ranks 23rd and Greene County comes in at 43rd in overall health outcomes in the statewide health rankings for 2019, which were released this week. There are 62 counties in the state.
The annual report, issued for counties nationwide, was released by the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The report analyzes data in every county in the United States, and provides a comparative analysis among counties in each state.
The report measures numerous health factors such as obesity rates, smoking, access to healthy food, air and water quality, teen births and other factors such as education level, employment rates, housing and transportation.
Greene County’s rank is 43rd out of 62 New York counties, Ron Rouse from Greene County Rural Health Network said the news is relatively good.
“This is an improvement over the last one I saw, where Greene County was 61 out of 62,” Rouse said. “Only the Bronx was ranked worse.”
Nationwide, the study found one of the major factors affecting overall health was the burden of rising housing costs, meaning a high proportion of a family’s income goes toward housing, which directs funds away from other needed resources, such as healthy food and health care.
“Our homes are inextricably tied to our health,” said Richard Besser, M.D., president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in a statement. “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.”
The housing issue was less of a factor in the Twin Counties than overall in New York state, where the rate of families having severe housing problems was 24 percent. In Columbia County that figure was 15 percent and in Greene County it was 18 percent.
Columbia County ranked 23rd in New York state overall, and was near the top of the list in the quality of life category, ranking fifth. Greene County was ranked 41st for the same criteria, which includes the number of residents in poor or fair health, poor physical and mental health days and low birth weight.
Smoking rates in the Twin Counties are at 18 percent in each county, higher than the statewide rate of 14 percent.
While the rate is higher in comparison to the average rate in the state, the numbers have been declining overall in the Twin Counties, said Karen dePeyster, program director of Tobacco-Free Action of Columbia and Greene Counties.
“The smoking rate in both counties used to be higher,” dePeyster said. “Within the past five years, the smoking rate in both Columbia and Greene counties has decreased. It was about 22 percent maybe three or four years ago in Columbia County, and about 24 percent in Greene. So the smoking rates have been going down. We had a little bit of a plateau in Columbia County, where the smoking rate has been 18 percent for three or four years, but although Greene County is above the state average, it has been declining. It was 24 percent five years ago. We are at the lowest rate that Greene County has ever had, so it is moving in the right direction.”
Adult obesity rates were within the same range as statewide, at 25 percent in Columbia and 27 percent in Greene, while the state rate was 26 percent. The obesity rate in Columbia County took a slight dip in 2010, but has held steady in the mid-20 percent range over the past nine years, according to the report. In 2012 the rate was 30 percent, but has since dropped to the mid-20s and stands at a steady 27 percent.
The Greene County Rural Health Network has taken steps to tackle the obesity issue, Rouse said.
“We have a tremendously successful weight-loss program called the Biggest Loser Contest, which averages 400 to 450 people per contest, which is a very high number in terms of the total population in the county,” Rouse said. “For the top winners we offer prizes up to $1,000, and we offer other cash prizes as well. About 40 percent of the people lose 5 percent or more of their weight, and 5 percent is currently the gold standard for weight-loss goals.”
Weight loss goes a long way toward reducing other health issues, Rouse said.
“Obesity affects heart health, strokes, diabetes, arthritis — the list goes on — so if you can do something to lower obesity rates, you also have an impact on all those other health problems,” Rouse said.
The Network also has programs targeting alcohol dependence, drug abuse and binge drinking.
“Lifestyle has a huge impact on health status,” he said. “That is why we need to address issues like obesity, alcohol dependence and drug abuse.”
Both counties have a high ratio of residents to primary care physicians. In Columbia County there is one physician for every 2,030 residents, while Greene County — which has not had a hospital since 1992 when Greene County Memorial Hospital closed — has one physician for every 2,790 residents. Overall in New York state, there is one doctor for every 1,200 residents.
Columbia Memorial Health spokesman Bill Van Slyke did not immediately respond to calls for comment.