Want to get healthier? A new study says you might want to make a "run for the border" -- to the Garden State. But before you pack your bags, local health care experts say the diagnosis is not as good for western New Jersey.
With all the greasy grub at Jimmy's Doggie Stand in Phillipsburg, it might not look like it, but you are looking at some the healthiest people in America.
"I'm surprised at that," said Guy Carlomagno, who was grabbing a hot dog for lunch. "Because I eat down at the boardwalk. I see what's going on down there."
The United Health Foundation's new "America's Health Rankings" lists New Jersey as the nation's eighth healthiest state. Pennsylvania ranks 26th.
The study gives New Jersey credit for low infant mortality, obesity, and smoking rates.
"So you're looking at obesity and smoking, which are a tremendous driver of health care costs," said Dr. Anju Sikka, United Healthcare's New Jersey medical director.
The Garden State also has more doctors than almost any other state, and spends significantly more money on public health than Pennsylvania.
"New Jersey spends 65 dollars [per person]," said Sikka, "and Pennsylvania spends 52 dollars."
Pennsylvania gets high marks too, for having 90 percent of its residents insured and a high student graduation rate. But the Keystone loses points for some of the nation's worst air quality, some of the nation's highest cancer rates, and lots of workplace injuries.
"I'm not really sure why," said Brandon Tigar, who teaches physical education at East Stroudsburg University. "Maybe just because it's more of a blue-collar area. That could be a reason."
Some believe health attitudes are changing in our region.
"You have some people, I think, that are more health conscious," said Randi Dellavechia of Moore Twp., Northampton Co., "and I think that's very obvious when you look at the farmers market and your health food stores -- how popular they are around here."
But before you hit the bridge and cross the river, experts at St. Luke's Hospital in Phillipsburg warn that western New Jersey lags behind the rest of the state. The area suffers from high rates of drug abuse and alcoholism, according to Dr. Ed Gilkey, the hospital's vice president of medical affairs. Gilkey also believes Warren Co. has more obesity than more urban parts of New Jersey.
"It's just a matter of lifestyle for everybody," said Sophia Malatos, owner of Jimmy's Doggie Stand. "It's what you choose to eat makes all the difference."
Here's something else to consider. Every county in New Jersey has its own health department. In Pennsylvania, only a handful do. Efforts to create a regional health department in the Lehigh Valley have made very little headway over the past few years.
Read the full study: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/