OPINION COLUMNS

Wise gets mixed results with health rankings

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, April 7, 2012

A study was released this week ranking counties in terms of health factors.

Like nearly all studies, this one revealed some good and some bad when it comes to Wise County health.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

The study was performed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The study looked at how factors such as education, jobs, income and environment impact the health of the population.

Overall, Wise County was ranked as the 40th healthiest county – out of 221 counties in the state that were studied. That puts Wise in the top 20 percent. Good news, right?

Well, some of it is.

The study showed that Wise County ranked better than the state average in areas such as low birthweight, teen birth rate, sexually transmitted diseases, high school graduation percentage, children living in a single-parent household and children living in poverty.

We were about average with the rest of the state in areas such as adult smoking and the number of uninsured.

But then there were the areas that were identified for needed improvement.

Take physical environment for example. The study ranked Wise County 205 out of the 221 counties. Physical environment took into account factors such as the number of air pollution days, access to recreational facilities, access to healthy foods and fast food restaurants.

One of the areas of biggest concern was the number of air pollution-ozone days. For this factor, the study used numbers from 2007 that showed 25 ozone days that year. That ranked Wise County in the top 10 in highest number of ozone days for the year.

The study showed that 21 percent of the population are both low income and do not live close to a grocery store. For a non-metro county, that means less than 10 miles. It should be noted that the data used for this part of the study was from 2006.

Surprisingly, at least for me, the study said the percentage of all restaurants that were fast food in Wise County was 43 percent, better than the state average of 53 percent. I would have bet money that more than half of the restaurants in Wise County are fast food places.

Wise also ranked higher than the state average in access to recreational facilities.

The study showed that Wise County has more than twice the state average for motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 population. The rate in Wise County is 38 compared to 17 for the state average.

Another area where Wise County more than doubled the state average was in the ratio of population to primary care physicians. The ratio was 2,089:1 in Wise compared to the state average of 1,050:1.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also teamed up with the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Human Needs to study the statistical relationship between county death rates or diabetes prevalence and local education and income levels for counties across the country.

That study said that if 5 percent more people in Wise County attended some college and 3 percent more had an income higher than twice the federal poverty level, we could expect to save 17 lives, prevent 160 cases of diabetes and eliminate $1.4 million in diabetes costs every year.

There were a lot more numbers presented – way more than I can cover in a single column, but what I took away from the study is that while we are doing well in some areas of health, there is plenty of work yet to do.

To read more of the study, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.

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