By Dr. Anthony Policastro

U.S. News and World Report recently did a ranking of 3,000 U.S. counties based upon health criteria. 

They looked at 10 categories. They included population health, equity, education, economy, housing, food and nutrition, environment, public safety, community vitality, and infrastructure.

Las Alamos County, New Mexico was ranked 1st nationally. They had a score of 100 out of 100. Sussex County was not ranked. Our score was 46 out of 100.

Kent County scored 49. New Castle County scored 58. Therefore, we were the lowest in the state.

Sussex County’s highest score was in community vitality. That score was a 78. It was based on high home-ownership rates. It also had a higher migration of new people into the county. Voter participation rate was higher than the national average. 

Another big score was in food and nutrition. That was 68. That was driven by a lower than average incidence of diabetes and obesity. 

Infrastructure was at 67. Distance to public transport was high but most households had a vehicle. That kind of makes sense, if there is no public transportation you need a car.

Overall housing had a low score of 35. That was driven by the cost of housing being high compared to the average wage. More households spent greater than 30 percent of income on housing than the average. The average number of hours worked per week to afford housing was 46.8, compared to 40.6 hours nationally.

Another area with a low score of 35 was environment.  That was primarily driven by a large number of homes in a flood zone. The national average was 3.8 percent of homes in a flood zone. Sussex County was about 6 times that number at 20.2 percent of the houses being in a flood zone.

The number of days per year with excessive heat was also above the national average of 10 days per year. However, at 15 days per year, that was not as big a difference as the flood zone.

The public safety score was also low at 36. Violent crime was about twice the national average.  Spending on health and emergency services was on the low side. Public service professionals in the population was also a little on the low side. That metric also included about 75 percent of the population not living close to emergency services.

Equity was at 38. Most of that was driven by a poor score for premature death. That means that the age at death for residents is earlier than it is in other areas. Even with that score, the state overall was even higher. Therefore, it is not confined to Sussex County.

The other three scores were in the 50s. Population health was 57. That was primarily driven by a teen birth rate more than twice the national average. Economy was also at 57. That was driven primarily by low wages and high unemployment. Education was at 53. That was primarily driven by a high school graduation rate below the national average. This is not that surprising with the high teen birth rate also being an issue.

Many things in medicine are driven by poor health habits. However, in this survey many of the low scores were not related to individual behaviors. A good example of that is the flood zone data. Even though there are not a lot of things that can be done by individuals, there are some things that we can do as a population to help improve the areas of weakness. The question is whether we want to take that on or not.