Editorial: Where we are, how well we are

Mar. 26, 2013 @ 01:09 PM

In Durham, we're better than much of the rest of the state when it comes to preventable hospital stays. We're more college-educated than most and we're less unemployed. But our violent crime rate is higher than the state as a whole and we have more children living in  poverty and in single-parent households.

We have fewer premature deaths, but more infants with low birth weight. We drink more excessively. We're a little fatter than the rest of the state.

We don't crash our cars as much, but we're spreading too many sexually transmitted diseases and our teen birth rate isn't far behind the state. Our HIV prevalence rate, alarmingly, is more than double that of the state overall and up this year over the last.

Our median income of $47,007 - down from last year - is still slightly higher than the state median of $44,028.

The Herald-Sun's Neil Offen reported last week on a health summit where more than 400 gathered at the Durham Convention Center to discuss the latest rankings, which saw Durham drop from 8th to 17th among North Carolina counties. We're doing better as a state, but not by much: North Carolina ranked 33rd out of 50 states, although that's up from 35 the previous year.

"We are not doing as well as we should be doing," said Laura Gerald, the state health director. "We're better than Alabama and South Carolina, but no one is pleased with where we are. We've got a ways to go."

The news is better for neighboring Orange County, which has about half the population of Durham but maintained its 2nd place ranking in the state. Fewer smokers, less obesity, more physical activity, not as many teen mothers and much fewer incidents of sexually transmitted diseases. It's not utopia, though. More people drink excessively in Orange compared to Durham and the rest of the state, according to figures compiled by the state, and that got worse compared to the previous year.

Person County came in 33rd compared to the rest of the state. With a population of 39,637, it still managed to have more premature deaths than Durham. More adults in Person smoke, are obese and are physically inactive than in Durham, but fewer drink excessively. Still, they have more fatal car wrecks. They've got fewer sexually transmitted infections, but more teen mothers.

Chatham County ranked 15th for health outcomes, with fewer obese adults, but it has more adult smokers and excessive drinkers than Durham and double the fatal vehicle wrecks. In Chatham, 19 percent of children live in poverty, though, compared to 27 percent in Durham. Nearly a quarter of children in Chatham live in single-parent households, compared to 42 percent in Durham.

Granville County showed the most improvement this year over last, jumping from 73rd to 46th, with fewer premature deaths and less excessive drinking in 2013. But the county still struggles with adult smoking (23 percent), obesity (32 percent), physical inactivity (27 percent) and motor vehicle deaths.

Ultimately, the statistics support Gerald's assertion that how healthy we are is largely determined by where we live.

"This is not about the quality of our institutions," she said. "This is not about our clinical care. This is about social and economic factors. What we're finding, unfortunately, is that place matters when it comes to your health."

We need to be a better place.