03/31/11 — County ranks below average in health scores

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County ranks below average in health scores

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 31, 2011 1:46 PM

A new report that measures such health factors as life span, exercise habits, obesity rates and access to fresh foods and medical services has Wayne County ranked 53rd of the state's 100 counties.

Wake and Orange counties lead the state, with Washington, Cleveland and Wilson counties at the bottom of the list.

The report, released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, positioned Duplin in 51st place, Greene at 70 and Lenoir at 83.

Overall, the study showed that rural counties made their strongest showing in the category of environmental factors, such as clean air and water. The top five on that list were Lee, Lenoir, Dare, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.

A breakdown of the local composite showed that adult obesity affects 32 percent of Wayne County's population, 3 percent higher than the state average but 7 percent above the national benchmark, which is based on the 90th percentile of performance among all areas surveyed.

The percentage of residents who drink alcohol excessively in Wayne County is 10 percent, 2 percent lower than the state but 2 percent above the national marker.

Smoking locally came in at 23 percent, 1 percent higher than the state and 8 percent higher than the nation.

The motor vehicle death rate was also higher than the state and national measures, with 24, compared to 12 nationally and 20 in North Carolina.

Another major disparity was in the area of sexually transmitted infections. Wayne reported 604 as compared with 414 for the state and 83 nationally.

The teen birth rate locally also exceeded other markers. Wayne reported 66, compared with 50 in the state and 22 being the national benchmark.

The high school graduation rate was also lower, at 76 percent compared to 78 percent for the state and 92 percent being the national benchmark.

Children in poverty was markedly higher locally, with 25 percent reported, compared to 20 percent for the state and 11 percent nationally. Likewise, the rate of single-parent households was also higher in Wayne County, at 38 percent compared to 34 percent for the state and 20 percent nationally.

The homicide rate, at 7 for the state and only 1 nationally, was at 11 in Wayne County.

On the other side of the equation, though, the local population had a higher ranking for access to healthy foods than their state counterparts, with 75 percent compared to 66 percent. The national benchmark was 92 percent.

The community also had comparable access to recreational facilities, with both the county and state the same with 11. The national benchmark in that category was 17.

The report neither alarmed nor surprised Wayne County Health Director James Roosen.

"The first thing I asked myself is, how accurate is this because it was put together in another state and has information like that that's produced here," he said Wednesday afternoon. "We're ranked 53 so that means we're right there in the middle.

"It's good information if it's accurate. Actually, it looks pretty much in line with (our findings). Some low spots for Wayne are homicide rates, kids in poverty and motor vehicle deaths. I don't think any of this is really any different than what we already know."

The local Health Department released its own county health assessment in 2008, with secondary data updating the report in 2010. Every four years, the Health Department is required to do a comprehensive health assessment.

In 2009, partnering agencies met for a strategic planning session, to discuss the community's health status, review trends and develop plans to improve services.

Primary goals at that time included reducing the burden of chronic disease, teen pregnancy and out of wedlock births; workforce development and employee retention; decrease infant mortality; protecting residents from communicable disease and environmental factors that could cause death or injury; and improving customer service and access to care for county citizens.

For more information on the report, go online to www.countyhealthrankings.org/north-carolina.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.