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Science, Health, Tech

Annual study continues to rank Kent as least healthy county in Delaware

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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has given Kent County poor marks again in its annual county health assessment.

The 2019 study ranks New Castle County as the healthiest in the state followed by Sussex and Kent. Last year Sussex had the top ranking.

This year’s study focused in on affordable housing as a determinant of poor health. It says half of Delaware’s children living under the poverty line live in a household spending more than half of its income on housing.

According to the study, childhood poverty has been declining in recent years nationally, but Kent County’s rate is declining slower and is still two points above the national average at 20%.

Delaware’s Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay says the state is partnering with the University of Delaware and the Delaware Community Foundation on the Healthy Communities Delaware program to address the social determinants of health.

“What’s important in this initiative is really looking at those communities where we’re seeing worse health outcomes and really working with those communities to identify what the determinants are and we know that housing is at the top of the list for many of these communities,” said Rattay.

The study also shows Delaware continues to have poor health habits statewide with higher than average smoking, obesity and inactivity rates. The obesity and inactivity rates are slightly higher in Kent County.

Rattay says while the differences in health behavior between counties in a small state may not be “enormous” they are still notable.

“We tend to see health behaviors that are more concerning in Kent County,” said Rattay. “It may be slight, but we see more smoking or tobacco use, more overweight and obesity, less physical activity.”

Kent also has below average clinical care. There is a shortage of primary care physicians and a higher than average rate of preventable hospital stays, especially among Hispanic and African American communities.

Rattay points out health outcomes are generally worse for minorities and English language learners across the state.

“We have those communities throughout the state of Delaware,” said Rattay. “So some are urban and some are very rural areas, but we can look at a variety of different data and often see similar communities that are showing health outcomes that are not as good as other places in the state.”

Statewide for all Delawareans, premature death is more common when compared to the national average with about a 9% increase in years of potential life lost before the age of 75, according to the study.