New Hanover Co. gets high scores in county health rankings; Bladen, Columbus rank poorly

Published: Mar. 14, 2018 at 7:57 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 15, 2018 at 7:02 PM EDT
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SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - In the latest North Carolina county health rankings, New Hanover County was in the top 15 in overall health outcomes and health factors, while Bladen and Columbus counties ranked in the bottom 10.

Overall health outcome ranks are based on two factors: how long people live and how healthy they are while alive. Health factor rankings are based on four types of measures: health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment factors.

"There are fewer opportunities and resources for better health among groups that have been historically marginalized, including people of color, people living in poverty, people with physical or mental disabilities, LGBTQ persons, and women," the report reads.

Where we live, how much money we make, or how we are treated are important determinants of our health.

Overall, the experts used 13 aspects of life in health factor rankings: tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol and drug use, sexual activity, access to healthcare, quality of healthcare, education, employment, income, family and social support, community safety, air and water quality, and housing and transit.

Robeson County had the worst health rankings on both measures of outcomes and factors.

Wake County finished first in health outcomes and Orange County topped the list in health factors.

For more information on the rankings and how they're determined, click here.

New Hanover County

New Hanover ranked 12th out of 100 counties in health outcomes and 13th in health factors.

New Hanover County's ranking benefited from a high number of primary care doctors, dentists, and mental health providers, ranking fifth in the state.

"One thing that happens in an urban'll have a lot of healthcare providers because healthcare is very complicated, and it needs to be a lot of times centered in places where healthcare providers can collaborate near the medical center, so we end up serving six, seven, eight counties around us," said David Howard, deputy health director with the New Hanover County Department of Public Health.

Diabetes monitoring and mammography screening rates were also high, which improved the county's ranking.

New Hanover County had one of the lowest obesity and physical inactivity rates in the state, but one of the highest rates of adults reporting heavy alcohol consumption.

"The city and the county do a great job of putting parks out and maintaining excellent parks facilities, and this area attracts a lot of young, active families," said Howard.

The rate of chlamydia cases was highest in New Hanover County out of the five counties in our area, but the rate was still lower than North Carolina as a whole.

New Hanover County had low rates of teen births and good air quality which improved its ranking.

One in five households in the county had at least one severe housing problem, including overcrowding, high housing costs, or lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities.

New Hanover County had mixed success on education metrics with lower than average high school graduation rates, but higher than average rates of college and post-graduate schooling.

Columbus County

Columbus County had the lowest ranking in our area, 96th in health outcomes. Columbus was 91st in health factors.

"Our overall ranking is 96, and we are proud of that. We have moved up four spaces since 2010," said Kim Smith, health director of the Columbus County Health Department.

Columbus County had one of the highest rates of premature death in the state with heart disease, cancer, and accidental deaths as the leading killers.

Accidental deaths include opioid overdoses. Columbus County has the highest opioids per citizen ratio in NC, according to according to a database maintained by North Carolina Health and Human Services.

People in Columbus County and Bladen County reported higher than average number of poor mental health days – about five days in the last 30 when stress, depression, and problems with emotions were not good.

Columbus County's ranking was low in part due to high smoking rates, low baby birthweights, and higher rates of teen birth, especially among Hispanic people.

"This is the third year that we've had a grant from the state of North Carolina to help reduce our teen pregnancy rate, and it has gone down," said Smith.

Columbus County also faced barriers to getting healthcare, including a low number of doctors, dentists, and mental health providers.

Columbus County had higher than average rates of unemployment, child poverty, and violent crime.

Drinking water contamination, like GenX, also hurt rankings for Columbus County and Brunswick County.

Eighty-seven percent of adults in Columbus County drive alone to work, with many commuting long distances. This metric is an indicator of poor public transit infrastructure and sedentary behaviors.

Bladen County

Bladen County ranked 95th in health outcomes and 94th in health factors.

The county had one the highest obesity rates in the state with 38 percent of adults being obese.

Behind this rate are high levels of physical inactivity and low access to places for exercise like parks and gyms.

Bladen County had one of the highest percentages of single-parent households with 55 percent of children living in a home headed by a single parent.

Income inequality — the gap between the number of rich and the poor — was exceptionally higher than average in Bladen County, the second-highest in the state.

Bladen County had the lowest high school graduation rate in all of North Carolina with only 77 percent of ninth graders graduating in four years.

One in five households in the county had at least one severe housing problem, including overcrowding, high housing costs, or lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities.

Brunswick County

Brunswick County ranked 40th in health outcomes and 28th in health factors.

Top killers in Brunswick County are cancer and heart disease.

Brunswick County had about average levels of obesity and binge drinking on the state level.

The numbers of doctors, dentists, and mental health care providers were also on par with the state average.

Brunswick County had lower than average numbers of violent crimes and one of the lowest smoking rates in the state with just 15 percent of adults who are current smokers.

Pender County

Pender County ranked 27th in health outcomes and 33rd in health factors.

Pender County's ranking was hurt by barriers to getting healthcare, including a low number of doctors, dentists, and mental health providers.

High school graduation rates were exceptionally high at 90 percent in Pender County.

Pender County had lower than average numbers of violent crimes.

This county's ranking was hurt by long commute times driving alone, which discourages active commuting and social interaction.

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