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Nantucket Ranks As Healthiest County, Hampden As Least Healthy

This article is more than 13 years old.

A new nationwide report shows that Nantucket is the healthiest county in Massachusetts and Hampden County, in the southwestern part of the state, is the least healthy.

The report ranks each state county by county to find which areas have the healthiest residents and how long they live.

The researchers examined factors including teen pregnancy, binge drinking, poverty rates, air pollution and even the total number of liquor stores per county.

READ THE REPORT: Massachusetts County Health Rankings
READ THE REPORT: Massachusetts County Health Rankings

Also taken into account were premature deaths, numbers of uninsured adults, access to primary care doctors and healthy foods, rates of diabetes screening and high-school and college graduation rates.

That combination of factors encompassing health, socioeconomics and the physical environment shows that healthiness is affected by more than simply the health care system, according to the researchers.

"Health is not created just by medical care practitioners and public health practitioners," said researcher Julie Willems Van Dijk, an associate scientist at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

"It's also in the purview of employers and business, educators, transportation planning and zoning, substance abuse and mental health professionals, and public policy makers," she explained. "So it's an opportunity, really, to think about health in a much broader way."

The rankings, released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, are meant to encourage all communities to become healthier places.

"The point of doing this," Van Dijk said, "is to serve as a call to action to folks in our community, to say, 'Here's where we rank relative to others, here's where our strengths and challenges are, let's get together and improve this.' "

Hampden County, which includes Springfield, came in last place in part because more than a quarter of the adults living there are obese and more than 20 percent smoke. Suffolk County, which includes Boston, ranked second-to-last.

"I don't want to minimize how important medical care is, because access to quality medical care is one of the factors that we rank," Van Dijk said. "But you could have all the doctors and all the access in the world, and if we didn't pay attention to health behavior and socioeconomics and physical environment, we still wouldn't have health."

The online report purports to be the first-ever research to rank the overall health of every county in all 50 states.

This program aired on February 17, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Sacha Pfeiffer Twitter Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.



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