- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The 2014 County Health Rankings released Wednesday revealed health inequalities across the state, taking into account factors including quality of life and access to medical care, according to the Vermont Department of Health.

Chittenden County topped the list as the healthiest county while Essex and Orleans were the least healthy counties in the state. Addison, Washington and Windsor followed Chittenden as the state’s healthiest counties.

The ranking is measured using data on life length, quality of life as well as health factors including behavior and medical access. The County Health Rankings are put together by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a health-focused philanthropic organization, and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

In Chittenden County, 82 percent live reasonably close to parks or recreation centers and the number of Chittenden County adults who smoke is 5 percentage points less than the state average. The county also has better ratios of primary care physicians, dentists and mental health providers than the statewide average.

“Even in Chittenden County, the bounty of good health is not shared equally,” Heather Danis, the Vermont Department of Health’s director of the Burlington district office, said in a statement. “Too many residents, especially those with lower incomes and education levels, and those identifying as a racial or ethnic minority, experience poorer health outcomes that are largely preventable.”

The counties with the lowest rankings for health outcomes, in descending order, were Orange, Rutland, Bennington, Orleans and Essex.

The rankings also looked at factors including tobacco use, diet and exercise information, alcohol and drug use, social and economic factors and physical environment.

“The county report underscores the scope of the challenges that face the Northeast Kingdom,” James Biernat, director of the Newport district office, said in a statement.

In Essex County, the ratio of population to primary care physicians is 3,146 to one. Smoking is 10 percentage points higher in Essex County than statewide and only 32 percent report have parks or recreation centers nearby.

“Unemployment and underemployment continue to serve as key drivers behind the results,” Biernat said. “From a public health perspective we are fully devoted to advancing our community’s health. We may have a ways to go compared to other counties, but we are definitely moving forward.”

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