Cambria, Blair among unhealthiest counties in the state

PHILADELPHIA – How healthy you are is strongly linked to where in Pennsylvania you live, according to the results of a new county-by-county study that found Philadelphia the least healthy county and neighboring Chester the healthiest in the state.

Centre and Bedford counties make the top of the list as two of the 20 healthiest, at No. 4 and No. 20, respectively, with Huntingdon County falling just short at No. 26.

Clearfield County stands in the middle of the pack at No. 38, while two area counties – Blair and Cambria – are among the unhealthiest.

Blair County is ranked 56 out of 67, with Cambria at 63.

The report released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute evaluated Pennsylvania’s 67 counties on more than two dozen factors the researchers believe influence a person’s health. They include individual healthy behavior markers such as obesity and smoking, as well as social and economic factors like education, violent crime, health care access, family support, education and unemployment.

The healthiest in the area, Centre County ranked favorably on mortality rates, health factors and socioeconomic factors.

Centre consistently has one of the lowest, if not the lowest, unemployment rates in the state- which currently stands at 6.2 percent, according to County Health Rankings and Road Maps.

Centre also has a 94 percent high school graduation rate, tying for the highest in the state with Clinton and Butler counties.

This is several percentage points better than most other surrounding counties, save for Cambria County with a 93 percent high school graduation rate.

However, Centre falls short in the physical environment area, because of limited access to healthy food and recreational facilities, below the state benchmark.

Bedford County ranked highly among other counties because of some health factors, such as having fewer babies born at low birthweight, and physical environment factors, with little air pollution and fewer fast food restaurants than the state average.

Huntingdon and Clearfield counties also ranked highly on physical environment, with Huntingdon residents having high access to healthy foods and both having little pollution.

Dr. James Marks of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said of the report that social and economic factors are the most powerful health predictors.

“We can’t treat our way out of our high health care costs. … Where and how people live, learn, work and play greatly affects their health.”

That statement is true of the Philadelphia-Chester case, but for Blair and its surrounding counties, it isn’t.

Centre outperforms all with a No. 3 ranking on social and economic factors, but both Blair and Cambria counties rank higher than the rest that sit higher on the health outcomes ranking.

Blair is ranked at No. 24, due to an 85 percent high school graduation rate and half the state average of violent crime.

It falls within state benchmarks for the number of children living in poverty or in single-parent households, and has a lower unemployment rate.