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Philadelphia least healthy in Pa. again, report says

Once again, Philadelphia is the least healthy county in the state, according to a report that ranks counties across the U.S. on health factors.

Once again, Philadelphia is the least healthy county in the state, according to a report that ranks counties across the U.S. on health factors.

The 2016 County Health Rankings, released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, shows Philadelphia at the way bottom - 67th of the 67 counties in the state.

In last year's report, Philadelphia, despite its university hospitals, abundance of doctors and other health professionals, also ranked at the bottom as it did in the 2010 to 2014 reports. The 2010 report was the first county health rankings by the collaboration.

The rankings measure vital health factors, including high-school-graduation rates, obesity, smoking, unemployment, access to healthy foods, the quality of air and water, income and teen births.

Chester County was the healthiest county in the state in the 2016 report. Montgomery County was third, Bucks was sixth and Delaware County was 35th.

Bridget Catlin, a senior scientist and codirector of the County Health Rankings program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Thursday that even though Philadelphia was at the bottom in all seven years of the rankings, it doesn't mean the city isn't improving.

Philadelphia's premature-death rate has been dropping since the late 1990s, which shows improvement, but the rate hasn't been declining as fast as other counties, she said.

But she noted that 37 percent of children in Philadelphia live in poverty compared to an average of 19 percent in the state.

Other worrisome factors are the city's high school graduation rate - 72 percent compared to 86 percent for the state - and its unemployment rate, 8 percent, compared to 6 percent for the state.

"When you're employed, you have income and benefits that help support healthy lifestyle choices," said Catlin.

When you're unemployed, "that induces stress, and stress is very problematic for health," she said. "You end up with stress, high blood pressure, and poor mental health, depression."

She also said that "education is incredibly important to health because education is the pathway to a good-paying job. When kids don't graduate high school, there are only a certain subset of jobs" they usually go into. "Many don't offer a living wage and some don't offer health insurance or other benefits."

In a statement, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Thursday: "The latest RWJF County Health Rankings once again list Philadelphia last, meaning that residents of this city have poorer health and die earlier than in any other county in the state.

"The root cause of these numbers can be found in the city's high poverty rate - 37 percent of our children currently live in poverty, putting them at high risk for poor educational attainment and lifelong poor health.

"But we do not need to accept this," Farley said. "We should make the changes necessary for all our children to live to their fullest potential and all of our city's residents to live in an environment that promotes health."

South Jersey didn't fare so well in the Garden State. Cumberland County was at the bottom of the 2016 rankings - it was the least healthy of the 21 counties in New Jersey.

Camden County ranked 19th; Atlantic County 18th; Salem 17th; Gloucester 16th and Cape May County 15th. Burlington County, meanwhile, fared better than the others. It came in at No. 9.

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