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Study finds Bronx sickest county in the state

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A national study released yesterday shed a shocking light on the Big Apple’s health divides, deeming the Bronx the least healthy county in the state, and placing Brooklyn not far behind.

The study seemed to underscore the persistence of social and economic disparities in shaping quality of health, and put city health officials on the defensive.

The Bronx’s overall county rank was 62, or last. Brooklyn came in 58th in the “health outcomes” category, and Manhattan ranked 25th in that category, but an impressive second in “health behavior.”

The findings were detailed in the second annual County Health Rankings report, issued by the Population Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin.

In response, the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene yesterday released a four-page brag book on its efforts.

“This wasn’t a surprise to us,” said a city spokesperson. “We’ve already been actively working in places in the Bronx and Brooklyn to improve some of these things.”

The study’s finding resonated with Lisa Gomez, 21, of Castle Hill, the Bronx.

Poor communities are targeted by companies that pollute, increasing asthma rates, and poor people can’t afford or don’t know how to access care, she observed.

The city highlighted initiatives such as the Healthy Bodegas, NYC Green Carts and Shape Up New York. It also touted a 22 percent decline in infant mortality from 1998 to 2008.

But buried in the tables were some positive stats that surprised even the health department spokesperson: 100 percent of Bronx residents and 95 percent of Queens residents were found to have access to healthy foods via outlets such as grocery stores and vegetable stands, compared to only 47 percent of Manhattanites.

Still, one reason behind the poor health outcomes in the Bronx is its rate of premature and low birth weight babies, explained Julie Willems Van Dijk, associate scientist at the Population Health Institute. Because the study assumes an average longevity of 75, children who die at birth skew the average much more than older folks who die a few years shy of 75.

“Given the level of challenges due to socioeconomic factors, the outcomes could be a lot worse,” said Van Dijk, adding, “it will take much more than the public health departments to turn this around.”

South Bronx resident Marilyn Santos agreed. Cultural influences and a lack of nutritional literacy propel many poor dietary choices, she said.

“Kids are not very fond of eating vegetables,” she noted. “If they’re in high school, they just want pizza.”

Other findings:

— Time for a sexual health check up! The Chlamydia rate ranged from 204 per 100,000 population in Staten Island to 1,145 per 100,000 in The Bronx. The national benchmark? 83 per 100,000.

— We’re lonely. The percentage of adults who lacked social and emotional supports ranged from 23 percent on Staten Island to 35 percent in the Bronx. The national benchmark is 14 percent.

— Manhattanites may be the skinniest people in New York State. While the national benchmark of obesity is 25 percent, only 16 percent of Manhattanites have a Body Mass Index over 30.

To see how your borough ranks go to http://www.countyhealthrankings.org and follow the links.

(with Shawniquica Henry)

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