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Fayette, Greene least healthy counties in Pennsylvania, according to report

| Saturday, March 28, 2015, 5:47 p.m.

Greene and Fayette counties have Pennsylvania's worst health habits, a new report shows.

“I'm not surprised. I see the same bad numbers year after year after year,” said Karen Bennett, administrator of Greene County Human Services. “We try to do our best without having an organized health department.”

The report from the New Jersey-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ranks the health of every American county based on more than 30 factors, including length and quality of life, health behaviors, clinical care, socioeconomics and physical environment.

Greene County's health behavior ranks last among Pennsylvania's 67 counties, while Fayette County's is second-to-last.

The Western Pennsylvania county with the best health behavior is Butler, which ranked seventh, followed by Washington (11th), Westmoreland (12th), Allegheny (18th), Beaver (30th) and Armstrong (45th).

Among behaviors, 35 percent of Greene County's adults smoke (above the state average of 20 percent), 32 percent are obese (above the 29 percent state average), 31 percent are physically inactive (above the 24 percent state average) and 20 percent drink alcohol excessively (above the 17 percent state average).

“I think it's all tied to poverty,” Bennett said.

Twenty-three percent of Greene County's children live in poverty, and 30 percent of Fayette County's do, the report says. By comparison, 10 percent of Butler County's children live in poverty. The state average is 19 percent.

The report says child poverty rates are more than twice as high in the country's unhealthiest counties as the average.

“The poorer the county and the lower the education rates, the worse the health,” said Steven M. Albert, professor and chair of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Science at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health.

Albert said because many Pennsylvania counties lack their own health departments it's harder to address the broad range of public health concerns. Restoring at least some of the departments could help, he said.

Albert said he thinks hospitals are going to assume bigger roles in promoting healthy living in their communities. Changes made three years ago in Internal Revenue Service regulations require hospitals to do more public health work in order to maintain their tax-exempt status.

“Health is not just what happens inside their four walls,” Albert said.

Butler County also had the region's highest ranking in a category called health outcomes, coming in ninth for residents' length and quality of life. It was followed by Westmoreland (25th), Washington (33rd), Allegheny (34th), Armstrong (36th), Beaver (43rd), Greene (63rd) and Fayette (64th).

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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