Last month, the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute released County Health Rankings, a comprehensive study that analyzed the overall health of every county in the United States.
Here in New York, Westchester County ranked ninth. Out of the state's 62 counties, Putnam ranked first while Bronx County came in last.
County Health Rankings measured Westchester's overall health by analyzing health outcomes including mortality, or length of life, and morbidity, or quality of life.
Rates of mortality and morbidity were each given equal weight and were broken down by researchers into another set of population statistics called health factors.
Social and economic factors were given the most weight, with 40 percent of the health factor rankings coming from this set of data. They included education and employment rates, income, family and social support, and community safety.
These factors, for which Westchester ranked seventh, tended to be indicative of turnouts associated with the less weighted factors like health behaviors (30%), clinical care (20%), and the physical environment (10%).
So how does Rye compare to the rest of Westchester?
The City of Rye, with 14,955 residents, made up 1.6 percent of Westchester County's population in 2000. Rye measures up consistently above the county averages, especially when it comes to the aforementioned socioeconomic factors.
High income levels and educational attainment are generally recognized as facilitators for healthier lifestyle choices and longer lifespans, but one of the study's researchers, Associate Scientist Julie Willems Van Dijk, said that while the study didn't directly measure median household income, educational attainment was used as a proxy for income.
"We know that education correlates very closely with income. Typically, the more education you have the higher the income you have," Van Dijk said. "The other reason we used education as opposed to median household income is because we really wanted these measures of the factors to be areas where communities could really focus change."
Caren Halbfinger, Director of Public Health Information and Communication at the Westchester County Health Department, also said that there's generally a positive correlation between income and education and overall health on the local level as well.
"In general, residents with more resources and education may be more easily able to access the quality healthcare we have in Westchester, to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, to set aside time to exercise, to think long-term about their health and to make conscious choices to improve it," Halbfinger said.
The Westchester County Department of Health's Community Rankings Assessment for 2010-2013 provides a demographic breakdown for the City of Rye, which is a part of the county's East Central health planning region.
Patch compared this data with the New York State Department of Health's statistics for Westchester County as a whole. Both sources included the most recent available data. Here's a look at what we found:
Westchester County City of Rye
Population 923,459 14,955
Median household income $63,582 $110,894
Poverty Rate 8.8% 2.5%
Bachelor's degree or higher 40.9% 46.3%
Families with Single Mothers 20.1% 0.9%
While the City of Rye's median household income was nearly double that of the average Westchester family, education rates were similar. Yet the county has significantly higher rates of people living in poverty as well as families led by single mothers than Rye City, both factors that can make it more difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Van Dijk and Halbfinger note that educational attainment is very often a signifier of wealth and in Westchester this seems to be accurate.
Of the county's population, 40.9 percent of residents had a Bachelor's degree or higher in 2000 and 39.2 percent of all families had a median income of $100,000 or more. On the other end of the scale, 16.5 percent of county residents did not graduate from high school and 12.9 percent of families lived on less than $25,000 a year. The federal poverty threshold in 2000 was $17,050 for a family of four. A decade later it has increased to $22,050.
It should also be noted that the income figures from 2000 reflect pre-recession statistics. If more recent figures were available they would most likely reflect the difficult economic climate that has caused many citizens, both city and county-wide, to experience layoffs and pay reductions.
Karen O'Donnell, Assistant Superintendent at the City of Rye Recreation Department, said that the current economy has caused many people to change their lifestyles in order to adapt to tighter budgets, but the city aims to provide all residents with affordable opportunities to enjoy leisure activities.
"It's a challenge with the economy to pay for various programs, but we do offer scholarships--for our camp programs especially--so nobody misses out," she said.
O'Donnell noted that there's been an increase in people signing up for the city's recreation programs because those offered at private facilities tend to be more expensive. However, she also said that people sometimes don't realize they can exercise and enjoy the outdoors free of cost.
"I would definitely say it's easier for people with higher incomes to recreate because they can afford the programs, but there are many services that are free and people need to educate themselves on that," O'Donnell said.
Van Dijk said that the County Health Rankings report is meant to act as a community snapshot so local officials can continue to assess area statistics and make appropriate policy changes and intitiatives.
"The measures we put in this report are really intended to be both true measures to what contributes to health and measures that a community can take action around," she said.
In Westchester County, income disparities are evident, especially when comparing median household incomes. While Rye residents generally fare better off than the county average, the health department acknowledges the need to continue to provide educational outreach to Westchester residents.
"Part of our job at the Westchester County Department of Health is to promote healthy lifestyle choices, such as reducing fat and cholesterol in the diet, quitting smoking and exercising more, among residents of lesser means, and to give all residents the information they need to make healthier choices," Halbfinger said.