County health rankings reveal improvements and concerns
By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector
Friday, March 16, 2018
Pitt County made several improvements to its rankings this year among North Carolina counties for certain population health conditions, but also revealed specific areas of deep concern to the county’s public health director.
The 2018 County Health Rankings were released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The rankings provide a snapshot, comparing the overall health of nearly every county in the nation.
According to this year’s rankings, Pitt County made numerous improvements since the release of last year’s rankings. Pitt County’s health outcomes improved among the state’s 100 counties,moving from 59th place in 2017 to 51st in 2018.
“We are pleased that we improved in the rankings this year, but we’re not satisfied with these rankings,” Dr. John Morrow, Pitt County health director said. “We’re a ‘Leader in the State’ and Best in the East’ county, so we need to be much better than we are.”
The adult smoking rate was one of the areas that most pleased Morrow, a staunch anti-smoking advocate. At 22 percent in 2017, the rate was 20 percent in 2018.
“That’s very important because smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable death and disability for us,” Morrow said. “I think the efforts of some of our municipalities, like Ayden and Winterville, around tobacco-free parks and public spaces has been a really positive step.”
Morrow said he is increasingly concerned about the number of juveniles who are becoming addicted to vaping, or electronic cigarettes.
“We can’t rest on our laurels just because we came down a bit on the adult population, because those children are going to be adults in a few years,” he said.
The numbers on communicable diseases, particularly sexually-transmitted diseases remain a strong concern for Morrowr. They occur in the county at a rate of 1,154.8 per 100,000 population, which is nearly twice the North Carolina rate of 145.1 per 100,000 population.
“Chlamydia rates, which are among the highest in the state, which itself is among the worst in the nation, climbed way up this year,” Morrow said.
Teen birth rates improved from 26 per 1,000 females in the population to 22 per 1,000 population. Also, length of life or premature death (death before age 75 years) ranked 36th this year, demonstrating improvement from its rank of 40th in 2017.
In areas where social and economic factors influence population health. Pitt fell in at 60th statewide in 2018, as compared to 67th in 2017.
Pitt County historically performs comparatively well in the clinical care components of the rankings — which account for numbers of primary care doctors, dentists, preventable hospital stays and mental health providers — mostly because of the presence of Vidant Medical Center and the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, Morrow said. In 2018, the county ranked eighth among the state’s 100 counties in this category, moving up from last year’s 10th spot.
Conversely, quality of life in Pitt County — individuals, who are in poor or fair health, who experience a certain number of poor physical and mental health days as well as low-weight births — showed very little change, ranking 76th in 2017 and 77th in 2018.
Pitt County’s physical environment including air pollution, drinking water violations, severe housing problems and commute time to work, improved from the 88th to the 60th rank in 2018.
According to the 2018 rankings, the five healthiest counties in North Carolina, starting with most healthy, are Wake County, followed by Orange County, Camden County, Union County, and Mecklenburg County. The five counties in the poorest health, starting with least healthy, are Robeson County, Scotland County, Vance County, Edgecombe County, and Columbus County.
For more information about the 2018 County Health Rankings nationwide, visit online at www.countyhealthrankings.org.