If you want to take the pulse of healthfulness for Martinsville and Henry County, you have two options: the computer readout that says we are living badly and dying young, or the diagnoses of observers who say we are doing better than we were and not as bad as the statistics might indicate.

The 2019 County Health Rankings released this week may be enough to make you sick: Of Virginia’s 133 counties and cities, Henry County ranked 97th and the city of Martinsville ranked 129th for “health outcomes,” which are defined as length of life and quality of life.

These rankings, which since 2010 have been developed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, also measure “heath factors” (behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment), which showed Henry County as No. 109 and Martinsville as No. 126.

But there is good news. Henry County climbed 19 spots and Martinsville three in health outcomes and six spots and one spot, respectively, in health factors.

Overall, county residents rank much better than city. For instance, the county was 46 places higher for length of life and 13 for quality of life. Under health outcomes, Henry County ranked 83rd for length of life and 115th for quality of life. Martinsville ranked 129th for length of life and 128th for quality of life (both almost at the very bottom).

In rankings of health behavior, Henry County had a slightly lower percentage of adult smokers, much lower rate of sexually transmitted infections and teen birth, higher adult obesity, higher physical inactivity, lower access to exercise opportunities and much  higher alcohol-impaired driving deaths when compared with Martinsville.

But many who are invested in improving our healthfulness suggest that we are getting better, and that’s the more important issue.

“First we do not know  how they arrived at these statistics,” Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson said in an email. “It does, however, indicate that our community is below in the various aspects of health care. Is that attributed to our average median household being lower than other areas of the state or that we are a small community with not as many clinics and medical facilities that larger communities have?  It does indicate that we are below the average on physical activity which would improve many of the statistics if this area was improved.” 

Sheryl Agee, impact officer and team leader at The Harvest Foundation, noted Henry County has come pretty far in these rankings.

“Henry County increased its ranking by 19 positions this year [in health outcomes] and is at the highest ranking since they were established in 2010,” she said. “This area looks at health behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, diet and exercise. We feel this is an indicator from the positive impacts of community efforts to address important issues, such as substance abuse. 

“While it doesn’t mean the problem has been eradicated, there is a raised awareness and a joint effort that is having a positive impact in our community.

“The same is true to Health Factors, which look at education, employment, income and physical environment which increased six positions to 109 in 2018. The bigger picture is the increase of 16 positions since the 125th ranking in 2010. We believe that efforts with local partners are beginning to move the needle and we need to continue to stay focused on education, jobs and raising the income level for families in our community.”

Bad exercise habits in county

But then among county residents, you drill down to these factors:

Nearly one in five adults smoke, 35 percent of adults are obese, and 34 percent are physically inactive.

And the report says in Henry County only 40 percent have access to exercise opportunities, compared to 82 percent statewide and 91 percent nationally.

Given the county’s investments in trails – including a new plan passed last week by the Board of Supervisors – and facilities such as the Smith River Sports Complex, some wonder how that could be.

“The data show a disconnect between access and use,” said Nancy Bell, population health manager for the West Piedmont Health District. “While Martinsville/Henry County is rich with walking trails, blueways and entities like the YMCA and Smith River Sports Complex, these assets are not being fully utilized.

“The district collaborates with organizations, like the Dan River Basin Association, to market the availability of recreational infrastructure, recreational events and other free or affordable opportunities.”

Said Brad Kinkema, chief executive officer/executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County Family YMCA:

“Nationally the trend has only gotten worse for percentage of Americans that are overweight or obese. People must realize that their health is their responsibility and not their doctors’ or insurance company. At the Y we strive every day to instill healthy lifestyles.

“It was surprising that only 40 percent  of people in Henry County thought [they] had access to exercise opportunities. Not only is the Y in perfect location for most, there are numerous trails, the Smith River, Smith River Sports Complex and numerous other places to walk, ride, run or kayak.”

Struggles in the city

Oddly the data also show that 95 percent of residents of Martinsville have access to physical activity, but that generally the picture of their lives is much grimmer.

The average life expectancy in the city is 68.5 years, compared to 81 nationally and 79.4 in Virginia. The premature death rate per 100,000 population is 16,100, about triple the national average.

More than one in five residents of Martinsville has poor or fair health, compared to 16 percent in Virginia and 12 percent nationally.

Part of that is that city residents rank high for food insecurity (21 percent), low on access to healthy food (10 percent) and much higher in rate of drug overdose deaths (27 per 100,000 residents vs. 16 statewide and 10 nationally).

 “The rankings for Martinsville show that there are areas that need our continued attention, such as the one in three children in Martinsville who live in poverty,” Agee said. “This is why efforts such as Bridges Out of Poverty at the United Way of Henry County and Martinsville are important to keep our community focused on key areas that need our continued efforts."

Said Lawson: “We also have had a good number of uninsured citizens [11 percent] in our community, but with the expansion of Medicaid in 2019 these numbers should improve.

“We are fortunate in our community to have the Coalition for Health and Wellness which provides not only health care on an income scale but also sponsors/supports programs in the community that offers health improvement and activity.  I think there are those who would be more physically active but are unable to do so either because of the financial cost of many local facilities or that their health issues prohibit them from participating.”

Mike Farley, executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness, said two big issues are diabetes and the opioid crisis, and the coalition is working hard with other safety-net organizations to address those issues.

He said the coalition also works with SOVAH Health on mammography screening and other breast health initiatives to help educate people and catch disease early. He said the coalition is working with Martinsville City Public Schools to launch a behavioral health screening program for students and staff in the near future. 

The bigger picture

But Lawson and Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki both questioned how these surveys were accomplished and questioned the validity of the statistics.

“With working parents it's hard to juggle a full time job along with responsibilities that they have with children's school and outside activities,” Lawson said. “It would be interesting to know exactly where they obtained the information from for the statistics because some of those numbers seem quite unrealistic.”

Towarnicki noted that the unemployment figure listed (6.8 percent) was not accurate, which led him to question the entire picture painted here. He said he wanted to focus on the good news of progress.

“Looking at this from the big picture perspective rather than drilling down on any one particular item,  it shows as a community there is considerable work to be done to improve statistically,” he wrote in an email. 

“The good news is that there are multiple groups actively engaged, working to attack the community’s socio-economic issues from a variety of angles.  The issues defined by the statistical data have accumulated over decades and certainly will not be corrected overnight. 

“I would choose to focus more on the good and positive things being accomplished in this community every day by hardworking people to address these (and other) issues, albeit in small incremental steps, rather than looking at the data with a ‘glass half-empty’ mentality.”

Specifics from the report 

Henry County

HEALTH OUTCOMES

Length of life:

Premature death: years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 population (age-adjusted): Henry County: 8,800. Virginia: 6,400. Top U.S. performers: 5,400.

Quality of life:

Poor or fair health (percentage of adults reporting poor or fair health, age adjusted): Henry County: 21 percent. Virginia: 16 percent. Top U.S. performers: 12 percent.

Poor physical health days (average number of physically unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days, age-adjusted): Henry County: 4.3. Virginia: 3.5. Top U.S. performers 3.0.

Poor mental health days  (average number of physically unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days, age-adjusted): 4.2. Virginia: 3.5. Top U.S. performers: 3.1.

Low birth weight (percentage of live births with low birth weight, less than 2,500 grams): Henry County: 9 percent; Virginia: 8 percent. Top U.S. performers: 6 percent.

HEALTH FACTORS

Health behaviors

Adult smoking (percentage of adults who are current smokers): Henry County: 19 percent. Virginia: 15 percent; Top U.S. performers: 14 percent.

Adult obesity (percentage of adults that report a body mass index of 30 or more): Henry County: 35 percent. Virginia: 29 percent. Top U.S. performers: 26 percent.

Food environment index (index of factors that contribute to a healthy food environment, with 0 worst and 10 best): Henry County: 7.6. Virginia: 8.9. Top U.S. performers: 8.7.

Physical inactivity (percentage of adults age 20 and over reporting no leisure-time physical activity): Henry County: 34 percent. Virginia: 22 percent. Top U.S. performers: 19 percent.

Access to exercise opportunities (percentage of population with adequate access to locations for physical activity): Henry County: 40 percent. Virginia: 82 percent. Top U.S. performers: 91 percent.

Excessive drinking (percentage of adults reporting binge or heavy drinking): Henry County: 14 percent. Virginia: 17 percent. Top U.S. performers: 13 percent.

Alcohol-impaired driving deaths (percentage of driving deaths with alcohol involvement): Henry County: 32 percent. Virginia: 31 percent. Top U.S. performers: 13 percent.

Sexually transmitted infections (number of newly diagnosed chlamydia cases per 100,000 population): Henry County: 318. Virginia: 473.2. Top U.S. performers: 152.8.

Teen births (number of births per 1,000 female population ages 15-19): Henry County: 30. Virginia: 19: Top U.S. performers: 14.

Clinical care

Uninsured (percentage of population under age 65 without health insurance: Henry County: 13 percent. Virginia: 10 percent. Top U.S. performers: 6 percent.

Primary care physicians (ration of population to primary-care physicians): Henry County: 1:560:1. Virginia: 1,310:1. Top U.S. performers: 1,050:1.

Dentists (ratio of population  to dentists): Henry County: 1,710:1. Virginia: 1,470:1. Top U.S. performers: 1,260:1.

Mental health providers (ratio of population to mental health providers): Henry County: 10,250:1. Virginia: 630:1. Top U.S. performers: 310:1.

Preventable hospital stays (number of hospital stays for ambulatory-care sensitive conditions per 1,000 Medicare enrollees): Henry County: 5,107. Virginia: 4,454. Top U.S. performers: 2,765.

Mammography screening (percentage of female Medicare enrollees ages 67-69 that receive mammography screening): Henry County: 45 percent. Virginia: 43 percent. Top U.S. performers: 49 percent.

Flu vaccinations (percentage of fee-for-service Medicare enrollees that had an annual flu vaccination): Henry County: 50 percent. Virginia: 48 percent. Top U.S. performers: 52 percent.

Social and economic factors:

High school graduation (percentage of ninth-grade cohort that graduates in four years): Henry County: 87 percent. Virginia: 87 percent. Top U.S. performers: 96 percent.

Some college (percentage of adults ages 25-44 with some post-secondary education): Henry County: 55 percent. Virginia: 70 percent. Top U.S. performers: 73 percent.

Unemployment (percentage of population ages 16 and older unemployed but seeking work): Henry County: 5.0 percent. Virginia: 3.8 percent. Top U.S. performers: 2.9 percent.

Children in poverty (percentage of children under age 18 in poverty): Henry County: 25 percent. Virginia: 14 percent. Top U.S. performers: 11 percent.

Income inequality (ratio of household income at the 80th percentile to income at the 20th percentile): Henry County: 4.3. Virginia: 4.8. Top U.S. performers: 3.7.

Children in single-parent households (percentage of children that live in a household headed by a single parent): Henry County: 39 percent. Virginia: 30 percent. Top U.S. performers: 20 percent.

Social associations (number of membership associations per 10,000 population): Henry County: 15.4. Virginia: 11.2. Top U.S. performers: 21.9.

Violent crime (number of reported violent crime offenses per 100,000 population): Henry County: 227. Virginia: 207. Top U.S. performers: 63.

Injury deaths (number of deaths due to injury per 100,000 population): Henry County: 100. Virginia: 60. Top U.S. performers: 57.

Physical environment

Air pollution-particulate matter (average daily density of fine particulate matter in micrograms per cubic meter): Henry County: 9.7. Virginia: 8.9. Top U.S. performers: 6.1.

Drinking water violations (Indicator of the presence of health-related drinking water violations. Yes indicates the presence of a violation. No indicates no violation.): Henry County: No.

Severe housing problems (percentage of households with at least one of four housing problems: overcrowding, high housing costs, or lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities): Henry County: 12 percent. Virginia: 15 percent. Top U.S. performers: 9 percent.

Driving alone to work (percentage of work force that drives alone to work): Henry County: 87 percent. Virginia: 77 percent. Top U.S. performers: 72 percent.

Long commute-driving alone (among workers who commute in their car alone, the percentage that commute more than 30 minutes): Henry County: 25 percent. Virginia: 39 percent. Top U.S. performers: 15 percent.

*****************************************************************************************************

City of Martinsville

HEALTH OUTCOMES

Length of life:

Premature death: years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 population (age-adjusted): Martinsville: 16,100. Virginia: 6,400. Top U.S. performers: 5,400.

Quality of life:

Poor or fair health (percentage of adults reporting poor or fair health, age adjusted): Martinsville: 22 percent. Virginia: 16 percent. Top U.S. performers: 12 percent.

Poor physical health days (average number of physically unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days, age-adjusted): Martinsville: 4.0. Virginia: 3.5. Top U.S. performers 3.0.

Poor mental health days  (average number of physically unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days, age-adjusted): Martinsville:  Virginia: 3.5. Top U.S. performers: 3.1.

Low birth weight (percentage of live births with low birth weight, less than 2,500 grams): Martinsville: 12 percent. Virginia: 8 percent. Top U.S. performers: 6 percent.

HEALTH FACTORS

Health behaviors

Adult smoking (percentage of adults who are current smokers): Martinsville: 20 percent. Virginia: 15 percent; Top U.S. performers: 14 percent.

Adult obesity (percentage of adults that report a body mass index of 30 or more): Martinsville: 33 percent. Virginia: 29 percent. Top U.S. performers: 26 percent.

Food environment index (index of factors that contribute to a healthy food environment, with 0 worst and 10 best): Martinsville: 6.0. Virginia: 8.9. Top U.S. performers: 8.7.

Physical inactivity (percentage of adults age 20 and over reporting no leisure-time physical activity): Martinsville: 26 percent. Virginia: 22 percent. Top U.S. performers: 19 percent.

Access to exercise opportunities (percentage of population with adequate access to locations for physical activity): Martinsville: 95. Virginia: 82 percent. Top U.S. performers: 91 percent.

Excessive drinking (percentage of adults reporting binge or heavy drinking): Martinsville: 14 percent. Virginia: 17 percent. Top U.S. performers: 13 percent.

Alcohol-impaired driving deaths (percentage of driving deaths with alcohol involvement): Martinsville: 0 percent. Virginia: 31 percent. Top U.S. performers: 13 percent.

Sexually transmitted infections (number of newly diagnosed chlamydia cases per 100,000 population): Martinsville: 879.4. Virginia: 473.2. Top U.S. performers: 152.8.

Teen births (number of births per 1,000 female population ages 15-19): Martinsville: 59. Virginia: 19: Top U.S. performers: 14.

Clinical care

Uninsured (percentage of population under age 65 without health insurance): Martinsville: 11 percent. Virginia: 10 percent. Top U.S. performers: 6 percent.

Primary care physicians (ratio of population to primary care physicians): Martinsville: 13,450:1. Virginia: 1,310:1. Top U.S. performers: 1,050:1.

Dentists (ratio of population  to dentists): Martinsville: no data given. Virginia: 1,470:1. Top U.S. performers: 1,260:1.

Mental health providers (ratio of population to mental health providers): Martinsville: 310:1. Virginia: 630:1. Top U.S. performers: 310:1.

Preventable hospital stays (number of hospital stays for ambulatory-care sensitive conditions per 1,000 Medicare enrollees): Martinsville: 7,107. Virginia: 4,454. Top U.S. performers: 2,765.

Mammography screening (percentage of female Medicare enrollees ages 67-69 that receive mammography screening): Martinsville: 46 percent. Virginia: 43 percent. Top U.S. performers: 49 percent.

Flu vaccinations (percentage of fee-for-service Medicare enrollees that had an annual flu vaccination): Martinsville: 49 percent. Virginia: 48 percent. Top U.S. performers: 52 percent.

Social and economic factors:

High school graduation (percentage of ninth-grade cohort that graduates in four years): Martinsville: percent. Virginia: 87 percent. Top U.S. performers: 96 percent.

Some college (percentage of adults ages 25-44 with some post-secondary education): Martinsville: 57 percent. Virginia: 70 percent. Top U.S. performers: 73 percent.

Unemployment (percentage of population ages 16 and older unemployed but seeking work): Martinsville: 6.8 percent. Virginia: 3.8 percent. Top U.S. performers: 2.9 percent.

Children in poverty (percentage of children under age 18 in poverty): Martinsville: 34percent. Virginia: 14 percent. Top U.S. performers: 11 percent.

Income inequality (ratio of household income at the 80th percentile to income at the 20th percentile): Martinsville: 5.8. Virginia: 4.8. Top U.S. performers: 3.7.

Children in single-parent households (percentage of children that live in a household headed by a single parent): Martinsville: 62 percent. Virginia: 30 percent. Top U.S. performers: 20 percent.

Social associations (number of membership associations per 10,000 population): Martinsville: 31.2. Virginia: 11.2. Top U.S. performers: 21.9.

Violent crime (number of reported violent crime offenses per 100,000 population): Martinsville: 282. Virginia: 207. Top U.S. performers: 63.

Injury deaths (number of deaths due to injury per 100,000 population): Martinsville: 126. Virginia: 60. Top U.S. performers: 57.

Physical environment

Air pollution-particulate matter (average daily density of fine particulate matter in micrograms per cubic meter): Martinsville: 9.5.Virginia: 8.9. Top U.S. performers: 6.1.

Drinking water violations (Indicator of the presence of health-related drinking water violations. Yes indicates the presence of a violation. No data given for Martinsville:.

Severe housing problems (percentage of households with at least one of four housing problems: overcrowding, high housing costs, or lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities): Martinsville: 17 percent. Virginia: 15 percent. Top U.S. performers: 9 percent.

Driving alone to work (percentage of work force that drives alone to work): Martinsville: 79 percent. Virginia: 77 percent. Top U.S. performers: 72 percent.

Long commute-driving alone (among workers who commute in their car alone, the percentage that commute more than 30 minutes): Martinsville: 17 percent. Virginia: 39 percent. Top U.S. performers: 15 percent.

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