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Factors cited for poor health
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
Numerous factors, from poverty to a lack of transportation, are blamed by local officials for this area’s recent poor health rankings.
When people are jobless, making healthy lifestyle choices may not be the top priority, said Kayla Craddock, community health coordinator for the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness website. “My family went through that when DuPont left,” she added.
According to the 2012 County Health Rankings Reports, among 131 localities in Virginia, Henry County ranked near the bottom at 123rd and Martinsville ranked 113th for health outcomes, which includes mortality and morbidity. Mortality includes premature deaths. Morbidity includes such measures as poor or fair health, poor physical health days, poor mental health days and low birth weight.
For health behaviors, Henry County ranked 108th and Martinsville ranked 103rd. Health behaviors include such things as adult smoking, adult obesity, physical inactivity, motor vehicle crash death rate, teen birth rate, excessive drinking and sexually transmitted infections. (See related story below.)
Officials with area health, fitness and other agencies cite a number of factors that contribute to those rankings. In addition to poverty, they listed high unemployment, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, lack of awareness of or transportation to free health-promotion programs, apathy and this area’s history of being part of tobacco-growing and moonshine-making regions.
Other factors may be, compared with the state, higher percentages of elderly people, uninsured people, people unable to see a doctor due to cost and illiteracy; and lower median household income and percentages of people with some college, according to demographic information listed on health ranking reports for Henry County and Martinsville.
Brad Kinkema, executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County YMCA, mentioned low income, “a sense of hopelessness and people not taking care of themselves” as factors.
He said obesity is rising across the United States. “We’re not alone in this. States have been getting fatter and fatter every year,” he added.
Also, Southerners tend to eat a lot of fried food, Kinkema said. “Some cultural foods of different groups are not healthy,” and smoking is higher in this area, he added.
Cari Zimmer, director of Activate Martinsville-Henry County, also cited high unemployment, people being unaware of or lacking transportation to programs in the area to get healthy, and the obesity problem.
Bonnie Favero, prevention manager at Piedmont Community Services, said with this area’s location in a tobacco-growing region, it makes sense there is a higher rate of smoking. And being part of a moonshine-making region “speaks to high alcohol and illegal drug use rates” here — so much so that the Virginia Museum of Natural History decided to have an exhibit about moonshining, she said.
She was referring to the museum’s “Rocks to Racing exhibit,” which explored the area’s history of moonshining and racing.
Favero said Henry County’s excessive drinking rate of 11 percent was higher than the national benchmark of 8 percent but lower than the state average of 16 percent. Those statistics were included in the 2012 County Health Rankings report.
Published online at www.countyhealthrankings.org by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the rankings assess the overall health of nearly every county in all 50 states, using the most recent data. The data can come from different time periods in recent years, depending on the source and the specific health measure.
In an interview in 2010, Nancy Cox of the Harvest Foundation said a community health assessment for Henry County and Martinsville at that time found, “In a nutshell ... the area is significantly more diverse, less educated and more economically stressed compared to Virginia as a whole.”
She said the assessment showed: “We have higher death rates and higher disease-specific deaths; we have substantial hospitalizations for preventable conditions and for alcohol and drug abuse; 43 percent are overweight or obese; 22 percent are uninsured; and we’re designated as a medically underserved area, meaning we don’t have enough primary care physicians.”
As Memorial Hospital CEO Skip Philips said recently, “We tend as a community to have a sicker population.”