In downtown Trenton, a resident's average life expectancy is 73 years. In Princeton, just 13 miles away, the average is 87 years.

Babies born into black families in New Jersey are more than twice as likely to die before their first birthdays than babies born into white families.

While the state as a whole performs fairly well compared to others in health and well-being, there are major gaps in these outcomes based on where people live, their race, or how much money they make.

A report released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says New Jersey leaders should pursue a broad range of policy options — across 13 areas — to close the gaps and create a state where everyone can live their healthiest life possible. Nearly 6,400 deaths a year in New Jersey could be avoided, the report notes, with the right systems and rules in place.

"No one of these policies on their own is going to get us where we need to get. That's why we present them as a package," Giridhar Mallya, senior policy officer with the foundation, told New Jersey 101.5.

The report's recommendations make it clear that one's health involves much more than what happens in the doctor's office. The recommendations span many sectors, including education, transportation, housing and income.

Giridhar said the 13 policy priorities collectively touch on three important areas: making sure children and families are healthy and thriving; supporting communities to be vibrant, safe places to live and work; and making sure the healthcare social service sectors are well aligned and meeting people's needs.

  • Priority 1: Improve maternal and infant health outcomes by enhancing care, supports, and prevention.
  • Priority 2: Ensure maximum intake of the recently expanded paid family leave benefit, particularly among low-income workers.
  • Priority 3: Increase access to high-quality early education for all of New Jersey's 3- and 4-year-olds, with a continued focus on children living in poverty.
  • Priority 4: Boost the incomes of families supported by low- and moderate-wage workers to promote financial stability and economic opportunity.
  • Priority 5: Ensure New Jerseyans have equitable access to safe, affordable, and stable housing in the communities where they choose to live.
  • Priority 6: Prevent childhood lead positioning by maximizing state and federal funding and ensuring properties are lead-safe through inspection, remediation, and enforcement.
  • Priority 7: Expand equitable access to healthy food in communities and schools.
  • Priority 8: Ensure all roads, sidewalks, and public transit systems are safe and accessible to all potential users.
  • Priority 9: Reduce tobacco use disparities through price increases and cessation programs.
  • Priority 10: Shift the health care system's focus toward delivering whole-person care, working with other systems to promote overall health and well-being.
  • Priority 11: Ensure access to comprehensive, integrated mental health and addiction services.
  • Priority 12: Improve access to health and social services throughout the state by leveraging technology.
  • Priority 13: Foster collaboration within and across state agencies to improve health equity.

Each priority area is accompanied by recommended policy options. With priority No. 9, for example, it's recommended that the state consider substantial increases to state tobacco taxes, and dedicate a substantial portion of tobacco tax revenue to, among other causes, tobacco control programs.

"We know that when you raise the price of tobacco products, use of tobacco products drops, particularly for young people and particularly for people with limited incomes," Mallya said. "That's a benefit to them, but it's also a benefit to the state as a whole because it can reduce healthcare costs."

Joel Cantor, director of the Rutgers Center for State Policy, which worked on the report, said the policies recommended in the report are "supported by the best available evidence."

"These are not just pie-in-the-sky ideas — they have been vetted to ensure there are ways to build support and implement them," Cantor said.

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