METROWEST DAILY NEWS
MARCH 21, 2013
Middlesex County public health ranked high
By Laura Krantz/Daily News staff
FRAMINGHAM — A national study released Wednesday of public health by county ranks Middlesex County the state’s second healthiest, while Worcester County falls toward the bottom, at ninth of Massachusetts’ 14 counties.
However, local health experts caution that the findings of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation County Health Rankings and Roadmaps are deceiving because Middlesex County is large and diverse, and because very few public health programs happen on a county level.
“If you look at the entire county as an average it might look great, but that number does not give you specifics on individual communities,” said Sam Wong, Hudson health agent.
Wong is a key member of the MetroWest Moves program, working to improve public health in Framingham, Marlborough and Hudson, specifically through promoting smoke-free housing.
The county health study is a collaboration with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and ranks counties based on 25 health factors outside the doctor’s office, including rates of childhood poverty, rates of smoking, obesity levels, teen birth rates, access to physicians and dentists, rates of high school graduation, access to healthy foods, levels of physical inactivity and percentages of children living in single-parent households.
Nationally, the study found rates of premature death are at the lowest level in 20 years. It also found child poverty rates have not improved since 2000, with more than one in five children living in poverty.
Both Middlesex and Worcester counties moved up one ranking this year from last year. In 2013 Dukes County ranked healthiest and Hampden least healthy.
Wong mentioned smoking and lung cancer rates as an example of how healthy, affluent communites in Middlesex County bury lower-income communities’ shortcomings.
In Hudson, for example, the lung cancer rate is 84.4 residents per 100,000, compared to a state average of 72 residents and a national average of 63.1.
“For Hudson, Marlborough and Framingham, where MetroWest Moves is, certain areas of public health is not as good as we want it to be,” he said.
Adult smoking rates in the three communities are also slightly above the national average of 13 percent but below the Massachusetts average of 16 percent, according to data provided by Wong.
Rebecca Donham, senior program officer at the MetroWest Health Foundation, said its staff believes MetroWest can improve despite being generally healthy.
She agreed that because Middlesex County is large and diverse – including Framingham, Cambridge and Lowell – county data is not the most useful.
However, Maddie Ribble, director of policy and communications at the Massachusetts Public Health Association, said the map highlights the need for regional health services, in the vein of regional land use and planning projects.
“More and more there’s an understanding that those issues around land use have a lot to do with public health, he said.
Some towns are already using regional health services. Thanks to a grant from the MetroWest Regional Collaborative, Hopkinton, Ashland and Medway recently partnered to hire a public health nurse to run health and safety programs in the three towns.
Laura Krantz can be reached at 508-626-4429 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantzmwdn.