The health of a community is made up of several factors including access to health services, housing, food access, education, income and unemployment. Now, a new study and database from the New Jersey Hospital Association examines those many factors to identify New Jersey’s most vulnerable communities from a health standpoint.
The zip code analysis reveals New Jersey’s most vulnerable zip code as 08103 in Camden, followed by 08608 in Trenton and 08104 in Camden. Zip codes in Newark, Atlantic City and Paterson round out the top 10. The entire ranking of 537 zip codes can be found in the N.J. Vulnerable Communities database, developed by the Center for Health Analytics, Research and Transformation (CHART) at NJHA.
“While the 10 most vulnerable zip codes are centered in New Jersey’s largest cities, communities large and small, urban or rural, are shown to be more vulnerable to poor health even when a single social determinant is stressed,” states the study, “New Jersey’s Most Vulnerable Communities: A Zip Code Analysis of Social Gaps and Their Impact on Health.”
The study analyzes 20 factors including health measures such as chronic conditions, lack of prenatal care and premature death, along with social measures such as high school graduation rates, employment status and food access. The CHART team developed a scorecard to aggregate the findings and then indexed the results across New Jersey’s 537 zip codes.
“This type of data analysis helps us begin to understand the unique challenges that threaten health and well-being in our neighborhoods. Poor health can be an indicator of a fundamental need in our communities, whether it’s education, jobs or housing stability,” says NJHA President and CEO Cathy Bennett. “It’s important that we understand those unique challenges so we can begin to target solutions that will lead to a heathier New Jersey.”
NJHA has made the database publicly available to promote awareness among the many different sectors that play a role in the health of communities, including employers. As Bennett notes, “from wealth comes health” – and jobs and wages are important factors in health status. Evidence of that is found in the top three least vulnerable zip codes identified in the study: 07078 in Short Hills, 07976 in New Vernon and 07946 in Millington.
The NJ Vulnerable Communities database allows users to select a zip code and see its relative performance on each of the 20 measures compared with the state minimum and maximum. The study found common trends among the state’s most vulnerable zip codes, including a median household income below $39,000; an unemployment rate of 14 percent or higher; and a greater prevalence of mental health or substance use disorders.
On the life expectancy measure, the database shows a 22-year difference between the least vulnerable zip code, 07976 in New Vernon, with a life expectancy of 91.4 years, and the most vulnerable, 08608 in Trenton, with a life expectancy of 69.2 years.
CHART’s analysis revealed some unexpected findings, including adjacent zip codes that have very different results in local health status. One example is Jersey City, where zip code 07306 lands among the state’s most vulnerable with a rank of 451 out of 537. Meanwhile, another Jersey City zip code, 07310, ranks 91st, among the top 20 percent in the state. A deeper dive into the two neighborhoods shows that 07310 has a median income three times higher than 07306, along with a much lower percent of residents without jobs, health insurance or a high school diploma.
“The tale of two zip codes in Jersey City is an example of how, within one city’s boundaries, there can be a very different impact on health status based on societal factors,” says Sean Hopkins, senior vice president of CHART. “Those social determinants of health are the building blocks to improved health status.”
Cross-sector collaboration is the key to building a healthier New Jersey, Bennett says.
“Together, we can address those barriers to wellness,” Bennett continues. “And in doing so, we solidify the role of healthcare providers and other employers as anchors of their communities – supporting local economies, hiring area residents and creating a foundation for health equity across our state.”
Visit www.njha.com/CHART to access the full study and the N.J. Vulnerable Communities database.
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