A call to action
City leaders were rightly disappointed and concerned this week by Durham County’s failure to move up in the health rankings among North Carolina counties.
For the second year, Durham ranked 17th healthiest among the state’s 100 counties. That’s behind Wake (No. 1), Orange (No. 2) and Chatham (No. 15). Durham’s other contiguous counties ranked lower: Person was No. 33, and Granville was No. 46.
If you look at specific categories, Durham fares better than 17th in most. In health outcomes, the county is 16th in length of life and 21st in quality of life. In health behaviors, which includes factors such as smoking, obesity and motor vehicle deaths, Durham is 11th healthiest in the state. For clinical care, we are seventh. For physical environment, the county comes in at 15th.
Where Durham is falling short is in social and economic factors. It ranks 31st. The factors include number of high school graduates – 77 percent of Durham is, whereas 80 percent of residents statewide are. Durham, however, was well above the rest of the state on residents who had at least some college: 71 percent vs. 62 percent. Durham had more children in poverty, more children in single-parent households and more violent crime than was true statewide.
There have been efforts on a variety of fronts to improve the health of Durham residents, ranging from programs encouraging residents to raising awareness of specific issues like diabetes.
What these statistics bear out is the significant role poverty plays in our community and the costs that accompany it.
Durham in the past 10 years has come into its own as a great place to live and work. We draw visitors from all over the state with the Durham Performing Arts Center, the Bulls and our fine universities.
Part of what Durham needs to be is a place that, as a community, can figure out how to ensure entire pockets of the city are not getting left behind. Mayor Bill Bell and County Commissioners Chairman Michael Page have sounded the call for community action on poverty, noting how intertwined health and income are. “Improving health outcomes among our residents is perhaps a major reason why reducing poverty in Durham should be at the top of our community agenda as a community,” Bell said of the statistics earlier this week. “The fact that Durham has not moved the needle as much as we would like, towards improving health of residents, should be a call to action for us all.”
Durham should be a place where people want to move, where businesses want to locate, where the arts are embraced and the school system is strong. It is a community with some of the best medical care not just in the state but in the world, so it should be a community where people live long and productive lives. As long as poverty maintains a strong foothold here, it will be difficult if not impossible for Durham and its residents to achieve that potential.