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Does Inadequate Housing Lower Your Health Rankings?

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A new report measuring the nation’s healthiest and least-healthy counties indicate that nearly one in every five U.S. families stay in housing with severe problems including overcrowding, insufficient cooking and bathing facilities or costs above 50% of family earnings.

Abbey Cofsky, senior program officer at the Robert Johnson Foundation, which partnered with the rankings program at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, said that it sounds like it could be the 1800s or a Third World Country.

In this year’s County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, housing was one of several new measures which also included commute time, access to exercise opportunities and injury-related deaths.

Observations Made:

37% of residents in New York have problem difficulties according to the rankings. Top on the state comptroller’s list this month was Bronx, with 57% of the population paying more than 30% of their incomes towards rent. Bronx came in as the last of the New York’s 62 counties.

Nearly 76% of workers drive to work, in part due to limited commuter services and neighborhoods without sidewalks or safe crosswalks. These account for increased pollution and obesity cases.

Nearly 30% of commuters drive for more than 30 minutes to work – mostly in the East. This causes traffics, accidents, and stress.

For every 100,000 people, 59 deaths occur each year from unintentional and intentional injuries, but the figure shrinks to 49 in healthy counties and in about 10% of U.S. counties, it increases to 105 people.

About 77% of residents have access to exercise facilities, like a park or recreation center, but in worst counties, only 19% get right of use.

Bridget Caitlin, director of rankings at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute said that communities are really appreciating the breadth of factors, and they are forming partnerships which were not necessary there before.

Business, health, and recreation leaders in Minneapolis worked harmoniously to keep the bike trail system in place year-round to enable people to use it, Bridget said. The bike trail has extended to low-income areas, and the community created a bike shop to provide job training in sales and repair for neighborhood children.

Nevertheless, some of the rankings didn’t change or improve in five years of the program existence.

In least healthy counties, twice as many teens give birth compared to healthiest ones.

There were a decrease in the percentage of children living in poverty in the 1990s, but it rose from 18% in 2007 to 23% in 2012.

In 1995, 16% of adults were considered obese compared to 28% in 2010.

Criminal activity decreased by 50% in the past 20 years but has increased in the past two years.

Premature deaths (below the age of 75) are twice as high in the country’s unhealthiest counties as it is in the healthiest.

With the researchers not expecting huge changes, they noted some improvements. Smoking has decreased from 21% in 2005 to 18% in 2012, in part due to smoking bans, smoking cessation programs, creating stigma and increased taxes on cigarettes.

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