According to a study released March 20, 2013, from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, there is a large disparity between the health rankings of the upper and lower Hudson Valley, with the lower counties achieving impressive scores.
According to the County Health Rankings website four Hudson Valley counties are ranked among the top ten healthiest counties in New York State. Dutchess is ninth, Westchester is seventh, Putnam is fourth and Rockland is second. That makes the lower Hudson Valley the healthiest region in the state.
In the mid-Hudson Valley, Columbia is 45th, Greene is 55th, Sullivan is 61st and Ulster is smack in the middle of New York’s 62 counties at 31. With neighboring Dutchess at 9, one has to ask what creates the disparity of rankings in such a small region? The website explains that “The Rankings are based on a model of population health that emphasizes the many factors that, if improved, can help make communities healthier places to live, learn, work and play.”
Some of these factors are (in order of importance, most to least): healthy behavior (i.e. tobacco and alcohol use, exercise, diet and sexual conduct); access to and quality of clinical care; social & economic factors (i.e. education, employment, income, etc.); and lastly, the environment. The higher a county is ranked in each weighted category, the higher its final score. A high score is bad.
As an example, on average, while Ulster County has more primary care physicians and dentists then many other counties in New York State, it still has a higher percentage of excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco use, inactivity and, not surprisingly given the first three, obesity. The result is a high (bad) ranking in the Healthy Behavior category.
This is somewhat mitigated by the lower scores in the Social & Economic and Environment categories. What is ironic is that Ulster’s physical inactivity score is so high when the opportunities for activity in the physical environment are so widely recognized.
By further crunching the numbers it is apparent that living in Ulster County will lead to a higher mortality rate (a figure that has been consistent for a decade) but with a higher percentage of High School graduates, fewer children living in poverty and a lower violent crime rate than the average New York County.
Ulster County has firmly staked out the middle ground as far as this study goes, but it, Delaware, Sullivan and Columbia will have to work harder to gain ranking with neighboring Dutchess County in the Top Ten healthiest counties in New York State. One way to accomplish that is to put down that drink, put out that cigarette and go for a walk!.