Philadelphia remains unhealthiest city in Pennsylvania

Posted by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on May 7, 2019

Philadelphia is again the unhealthiest among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, according to the County Health Rankings & RoapMaps report issued by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The report provides data on each state in the US.

The annual county-by-county rankings take into consideration a variety of factors for the analysis, including health outcomes, health behavior, clinical care, social and economic determinants and physical environment.

Philadelphia’s low score reflects a variety of factors include high incidence of low birthweight babies, high rates of obesity, smoking, violent crime and housing problems.

This year’s report had a focus on the effect of housing costs on health care.

“Our homes are inextricably tied to our health,” said Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “It’s unacceptable that so many individuals and families face barriers to health because of what they have to spend on housing. This leaves them with fewer dollars to keep their families healthy. Imagine the stress and pain that come with unplanned moves. We are all healthier and stronger together when everyone has access to safe and affordable housing, regardless of the color of their skin or how much money they make.”

Nationally, the report’s key findings on housing were:

  • 11 percent of U.S. households spend more than half of their income on housing costs, which constitutes a severe housing cost burden. Among those who own their home, housing cost burden has decreased in the past decade. At the same time, there has been no improvement in the rates among renters.
  • Housing cost burden remains substantially higher among renters than owners, particularly for households with low incomes.
  • Severe housing cost burden affects health and is linked to barriers to living long and well. Across counties, increases in the share of households severely cost burdened are associated with more food insecurity, more child poverty, and more people in fair or poor health.
  • More segregated counties have higher rates of severe cost burden, for both white and black households. However, black residents face greater barriers to opportunity and health than white residents. Nearly one in four black households spend more than half of their income on housing.
  • Owning a home can, over time, help build savings for education or for other opportunities important to health and future family wealth. In large urban and smaller metro counties, the vast majority of households headed by whites own their home, while more than half of households headed by blacks are renters, rather than homeowners. In the past decade, trends in homeownership rates have changed little on average, though gaps among racial/ethnic groups are widening.

The report, available here, also contains a feature called “What Works for Health,” a database of more than 400 evidence-informed strategies to support local change-makers working to improve health status of communities.


“All communities have the potential to be places where everyone enjoys full and equal opportunity, but the data show that’s not happening in most communities yet,” said Sheri Johnson, acting director of County Health Rankings & Roadmaps. “It is time to do the difficult work of coming together to undo policies and practices that create barriers to opportunity. The Rankings can help communities ground these important conversations in data, evidence, guidance, and stories about challenges and success.”

Philadelphia-based Public Health Management Corp assisting in the preparation of the report, served as the state team leader for Pennsylvania. PHMC in the upcoming weeks will be releasing its its own local ZIP code level community data from its PHMC Household Health Survey.

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