LEONARDTOWN, MD – St. Mary’s County ranks as the 5th healthiest of the 24 jurisdictions in the State of Maryland, according to the annual County Health Rankings, released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI). The Rankings are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org. This ranking reflects improvement from sixth in 2018, eighth in 2017 and tenth in 2016.

“Our residents and community partners should be proud of the improvement in our health ranking over the past few years,” said Dr. Meena Brewster, St. Mary’s County Health Officer. “Our progress shows that the collective action of many really can make a difference in community health.”

An easy-to-use snapshot that compares counties within states, the Rankings show that where you live influences how well and how long you live. Housing is part of the foundation for living long and well. High housing costs can force some families to live in unsafe or overcrowded housing or even into homelessness. This year’s State Reports show stark differences across and within counties in the opportunity to afford a home, especially for those with low incomes and people of color. This year’s analyses show that a lack of opportunity for a safe, secure, and affordable home is tied to poor health.

The Rankings State Reports call attention to key drivers in health such as severe housing cost burden and its connection to other factors like children in poverty. Among Maryland children living in poverty, 64 percent were living in a household that spends more than half of its income on housing. High housing costs make it difficult for families to afford other essentials that contribute to good health, such as healthy food, medicine, or transportation to work or school. Looking at differences by place and race offers a more complete picture of a community’s health. In Maryland, 15% of households spend more than half of their income on housing costs but when we look by race –  stark differences emerge, as Hispanic households are most burdened by severe housing costs at 20 percent compared to White households at 12 percent.

“Our homes are inextricably tied to our health,” said Richard Besser, MD, RWJF president and CEO. “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.”

In addition to the county-level data, the Rankings also features What Works for Health, a database of more than 400 evidence-informed strategies to support communities as they implement local action around public health. If you are interested in working to improve health in St. Mary’s County, visit www.healthystmarys.com and join the Healthy St. Mary’s Partnership!