Somerset County Ranked Third Healthiest County in New Jersey

Somerset County has been ranked the third healthiest county in New Jersey, in an annual nationwide county health ranking conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Somerset County has maintained a third-place ranking over the past three years.  However, when it comes to measuring health factors that influence the health of a county  - health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical-environment factors -  Somerset County emerges as No. 1. This achievement can be credited in part to ongoing community initiatives and partnerships for healthy communities,” said Freeholder Mark Caliguire, public health & safety liaison.

The “County Health Rankings” project seeks to compare counties throughout the state and nation on a variety of factors that can influence personal and community health. This research highlights the healthiest and least healthy counties in each state, taking into account factors such as adult obesity rates, the percentage of people who lack health insurance, education levels, physical inactivity among the population and the percentage of fast-food restaurants.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the primary purpose of issuing these rankings is to foster engagement among public- and private-decision makers to improve community health.

“In 2012, Somerset County took action to promote this type of community-level health-improvement planning by establishing a partnership with Morris County to form the Regional Chronic Disease Coalition of Morris and Somerset counties. Through the efforts of the coalition, many municipalities in both counties are working toward enacting ordinances for smoke-free parks and ‘Complete Streets,’ which enable safe access for all users,” he said.

The Somerset County Health Department also has established partnerships with the county

Office on Aging and Disability Services  and the N.J. Department of Health to facilitate free chronic disease and diabetes self-management workshops, which are evidence-based community-education workshops from Stanford University.

In another partnership with Middlesex County, the Somerset County Health Department played an active role as a steering committee project partner with St. Peter’s University Hospital and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital to create the “Community Health Needs Assessment.”  This partnership brought together a diverse group of community partners who worked toward assessing and addressing changing community health needs.  As a result of the assessment, it was determined that access to healthcare and accurate, reliable health information are some of the challenges for county residents.

Additionally, through the efforts of a long-standing community public health partnership with the Greater Somerset Public Health Partnership and Somerset Medical Center, behavioral risk factor surveillance surveys were conducted in 2006 and 2012 in Somerset County. These surveys identified areas of health concern in the county and information from the 2006 survey became the foundation for the Somerset County Community Health Improvement Plan.

The most recent survey conducted by Somerset Medical Center, in coordination with the Healthier Somerset Initiative, was released in April 2012.  It suggests county residents are attentive to their health in a number of areas, and outlined several areas of improvement. Areas of improvement include: residents are more likely to have healthcare coverage (92 percent in 2011 versus 89.1 percent in 2006), adult influenza vaccinations (49.3 percent in 2011 versus 42.3 percent in 2006) and having a household disaster-evacuation plan (36.8 percent in 2011 versus 33.0 percent in 2006).

On the other hand, both surveys reveal a downside by suggesting that Somerset County residents are less likely to have a clinical breast exam (91.3 percent in 2011 versus 95.7 percent in 2006), less likely to have a prostate PSA test (50.9 percent in 2011 versus 71.4 percent in 2006) and are less active (77.3 percent in 2011 versus 86.3 percent in 2006).

The survey also reports that 38.8 percent of adults in Somerset County are overweight, and 21.3 percent are obese.

Somerset County despite being ranked the third healthiest county still has pockets of uninsured residents who have issues accessing care and are in need of affordable preventative services. This was highlighted in the Middlesex County Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (Middlesex County shares a boarder with Somerset County). The communities surveyed revealed that the areas of educational opportunities include increasing physical activity, PSA and HIV testing.  A number of residents’ surveys reported that they have not exercised in the past month, have not had a PSA test in the last two years and have never had a HIV test.

The surveys and the county health rankings serve as a planning tool to guide targeted public- and environmental- health-promotion programs. The information gleaned enables public and private decision makers identify the strengths and challenges in the health of residents, and determine areas that would benefit from community initiatives, such as the provision of community-health education, environment changes and free or affordable opportunities to help and encourage healthier habits.

The “2013 County Health Rankings” present another opportunity to continue to engage the many sectors of our community – nonprofit organizations, schools, businesses, government agencies and community groups -  to establish partnerships to improve the health of our residents,” said Freeholder Caliguire.

“Somerset County is sensitive to the health impact of its planning decisions, which have resulted in programs that promote expanded mobility options. Such programs include walking and biking; expanded transit options that have environmental benefits by reducing congestion; Brownfield redevelopment that remediates contamination and brings back land to a productive use; and an open space and farmland preservation program that provides expanded recreation options. Additionally the county provides opportunities and encourages locally grown foods, actively promotes energy conservation and the use of alternative energy production and green building design.”

Also, the county instituted a Wellness Committee, which, through various programs, encourages employees to eat healthy foods and exercise.

The Somerset Medical Center study can be viewed at