Herald-Sun editorial: Ranking health in Durham and statewide

Dec. 15, 2012 @ 07:32 PM

According to recently released rankings, Durham County is the eighth healthiest county in the state of North Carolina, out of 100 counties statewide. North Carolina, however ranked just 33rd in health out of the nation’s 50 states.

The rankings come courtesy of the United Health Foundation. The America’s Health Rankings are a national comparison of statistical evidence in a number of categories: smoking, binge drinking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, high school graduation rate, and supplemental measures that include dental and cholesterol checkups, youth statistics, heart disease rates, income, underemployment, and suicide rates.

North Carolina improved its position slightly over the 2011 rankings, moving up from 35th, and Durham County improved from ninth to eighth in the rankings. Still, North Carolina’s position as a state, and Durham County’s position, are cause for concern, or at least reflection.

“Eighth in a state ranked 33rd frankly is not so good,” said Gayle Harris, Durham County health director. “But at least we did a little bit better than last year.

“That means, even though we’re making some progress, there’s still a lot of work to be done. As a state, we’re out of the bottom third, but only by a little. The state needs to be better and so does the county.”

Harris said the availability of healthy good is a problem for many in Durham County, which, along with a lack of walkable neighborhoods in some places, combines to cause difficulties for people who are seeking to improve their health lifestyles.

Durham County scored well on availability of primary care physicians – score one for the City of Medicine – but fell short in other ways, such as having too many fast-food restaurants, leading to a low ranking in healthy physical environment. Also, diabetes rates are high, public health funding per capita is lower, and infant mortality rates are high.

Give Orange County credit for placing second healthiest in the rankings. Wake County was first.

A number of community initiatives and cooperative undertakings have begun in recent months and years to improve the health of local residents, and many of those efforts most likely will not begin to pay off for some time. Awareness is important, and while rankings such as those from the United Health Foundation are necessarily imprecise, they are valuable in that they train a spotlight on the need to improve our overall community health.