If N.J. Is A Patient, Call The Doctor

The Bergen Record ( — Tuesday, November 6, 2007


The overall health of New Jersey and the rest of the nation declined last year. But New Jersey sank faster, beset by rising rates of obesity, the uninsured and poverty among children.

Only Kansas saw a greater decline in health status.

The huge increase in obesity across the country, as well as high rates of smoking and binge-drinking, completely overshadowed gains made in fighting cancer and cardiovascular disease, according to the 18th annual report, "America's Health Rankings," released Monday by United Health Foundation.

"Over the last six years, the nation's health has virtually stagnated," the report said. It was based on 20 related factors, including personal behavior, the community environment, public health policy and clinical care.

The national report named Vermont the healthiest state in the union for the first time, followed closely by Minnesota. Mississippi dropped to last place from 49th, supplanting Louisiana. New Jersey was ranked 21st, down from last year's 14th.

In New Jersey, 22.6 percent of the population was obese in 2006, up from 9.9 percent in 1990 – but still below the national average of 25 percent.

"Both health and societal issues are reflected in this snapshot," said Ron Czajkowski, spokesman for the New Jersey Hospital Association, noting that it showed strengths and areas that need improvement. "The increase in the number of uninsured continues to have nagging consequences for patients, physicians and hospitals alike."

The state's uninsured population climbed steadily over the years, from 8.8 percent in 1990 to 15.5 percent last year. That puts New Jersey in the bottom half of states nationwide for health insurance coverage.

"Here in New Jersey, health care reform is absolutely needed," said Eve Weissman, an organizer for New Jersey Citizen Action, which is sponsoring a conference next Tuesday on state initiatives and national proposals that could lead to universal coverage. "We see that reform as guaranteeing all people affordable health choices."

Fewer working people in New Jersey receive health coverage from their employer than did five years ago, a separate study from the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive Washington think tank, has found.

New Jersey's rate of employer-sponsored health coverage dropped more precipitously than in other states, by almost 9 percent.

"The evidence is piling up that we need to change the way people will get coverage," said Jon Shure, president of New Jersey Policy Perspective. "Neither state nor federal government can just sit and watch this situation worsen."

The state also ranks very low, compared to the rest of the nation, in the adequacy of prenatal care for pregnant women. Only 63 percent receive the necessary care, the report said, although fewer babies die here within a year of birth, compared to other states.

Over the last year, the percentage of children in poverty increased by 42 percent, to 12.5 percent.

On the bright side, the rate of death from heart disease has dropped significantly and violent crime has been reduced.

The number of primary-care physicians is considered more than adequate for the population and the rate of high school graduation is high, although dropping.

The report added a new measure, binge drinking, this year. New Jersey ranked 18th. About 14.2 percent of the population engages in binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks in a row for men, and four or more for women.

By the numbers

Source: United Health Foundation

Copyright 2007 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

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