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Public Health Checkup: Is CNY a Healthy Community?

Public Health Checkup: Is CNY a Healthy Community?

Everyone knows that exercise is a key to a healthy life, so it might trouble you to know that 24% of adults surveyed in Onondaga County, the 35th healthiest county in New York, reported not being physical active in their leisure time. In Monroe County the number was 20%, and they’re ranked 38th (out of 62 counties) in the State for health.

Tompkins county is ranked the second healthiest county in New York State, and their ‘inactive’ number was 21%. It turns out, public health policy, and what makes a community healthy is more complicated than just how much exercise people get.

These rankings come from a research project conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Together, they’ve studied a number of health factors and made the results available on a web site “County Health Rankings and Roadmaps.” You can explore the data yourself at The goal of the project is to show people what they can do for themselves to improve public health.

What jumps out at you when you see the factors that affect public health, is how easy it would be to start making improvements in public health by starting in our schools, and our legislature.

The study looks at a variety of health and behavioral statistics, but if Onondaga county improved in four areas it could radically raise our overall health. the four areas are: sexually transmitted infections, high school graduation rate, adult smoking, and adult obesity.

Looking at all the CNY counties, a clear pattern emerges.

In Oneida county, the biggest problem areas are adult smoking, and adult obesity.

The same is true in Madison, Yates and Sullivan counties.

Oswego, Cortland, Wayne and Cayuga have the same problems, with the additional and closely-related problems of too few primary care physicians, which leads to too many preventable hospital stays. In other words, since there are so few primary care doctors, people go to hospitals for treatment of conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and COPD.

If CNY counties improved education, especially health and sexual education, and spent some health dollars improving primary care—the least expensive form of health care—we could do a great deal to improve everyone’s quality of life. And finally, if we could get the NY legislature to spend tobacco settlement money on smoking cessation programs, the overall improvement to county health would be a major boost to our economy because our health care costs would drop.

We have the ability and the obligation to improve CNY’s health, for ourselves and for future generations. to find out more, and to participate in improving our regional health policy, please visit the county Health Ranking Site, and participate in the online discussion at


About The Author

Michael Watrous

Michael Watrous is a community-planning consultant, who works with non-profit organizations to address community-based issues through policy, programming, and strategic planning. Michael holds a Masters of Urban and Regional Planning from the University at Buffalo, School of Architecture and Planning.


This site celebrates the people places, and culture that make Central New York one of the most vibrant and livable regions in the country. From Auburn to Utica, from Syracuse, to Ithaca, this is LivableCNY.

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