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Thursday, April 17, 2003

New Study Examines Health in Atlantic County

Local residents feel more hopeful about the future now than they did five years ago. According to a study released today by the Partnership for a Healthy Community, over 90 percent of county residents said they feel hopeful about the future, compared to just 67 percent in 1996.

The study, which was completed in 2002, also indicated that residents now value spirituality more than in the past - nearly 85 percent of respondents said that spirituality is either very important or fairly important to them, compared to 75 percent in 1996.

"Good health is clearly more than just the absence of disease," commented County Executive Dennis Levinson. "This study gives us important insight into the overall health and well-being of our community."

The Partnership Study also identified a number of other healthy local trends:
- County residents utilize preventive health services including flu shots, mammograms and routine physical exams more often than individuals in other parts of New Jersey.

- Compared to state and national statistics, local residents have better access to health insurance coverage for both children and adults.

- Atlantic County is home to a large percentage of non-smokers. Nearly 60 percent of county residents who responded said they do not smoke at all, which is almost 10 percent higher than state and national statistics.

Based on results of the study, the county's top health priority is reducing rates of heart disease and related risk factors, including obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise. This is an especially important concern among minority populations, which are disproportionately affected by cardiovascular disease and many other related health issues.

The Partnership, a coalition of local government and community agencies, sponsored this study as part of an ongoing effort to monitor community health. Partnership sponsors include Atlantic Cape Community College, AtlantiCare, Shore Memorial Hospital, Atlantic County Division of Public Health, Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation, Atlantic City Health Department, United Way of Atlantic County and William B. Kessler Memorial Hospital.

The Partnership's health and wellness report incorporates health statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, U.S. Census Bureau and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. In addition, the study includes a survey of 984 residents in Atlantic County and portions of Cape May and Camden counties as well as two focus group discussions. The current study also includes a detailed report on the health disparities affecting area residents.

A similar survey was conducted by the Partnership in 1996. Data from that original survey now serves as a benchmark, allowing health officials to track the progress of local wellness initiatives.

Partnership sponsors have already begun emphasizing heart disease prevention through education and health screenings. As Shore Memorial Hospital's Wellness Director Nancy Fontana explained, "The Partnership has provided essential information about the healthcare needs of our communities. We are listening to their concerns and we have responded. Shore Memorial has expanded its Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Center and launched the Women's HeartAdvantage program to educate area residents about identifying the risks and ways to prevent cardiovascular disease."

AtlantiCare is also working on the priorities identified in the study. "We will continue to meet the needs of the community working with grassroots coalitions that emphasize multicultural health and wellness. By providing outreach and screenings in non-conventional neighborhood settings, we will bridge the gap between community needs and the capabilities of Atlantic City Medical Center's Heart Institute and Women's Center supported by the RNS Mobile Mammography Van and the Community Health Mobile," said Gwen Meusburger, executive director of the AtlantiCare Foundation.

For more information about this survey or the Partnership for a Healthy Community, contact the Atlantic County Division of Public Health at 609-645-5935 or log onto:

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