State health ranking improves

Dec. 15, 2012 @ 06:06 AM

FOREST CITY — The overall health of North Carolina has seen an increase.

According to a report issued by the United Health Foundation, the state's health rating improved to 33rd in the nation.

The report, entitled America's Health Rankings, was released this week and looks at smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and diabetes. The state was ranked 35th in the nation in 2011.

As previously reported in The Daily Courier, Rutherford County fell to the 84th healthiest county in the state in 2012. It was 82nd in 2011.

"At this point, the jump is not significant," said Jimmy Hines, health director for the Rutherford McDowell Polk Health Department. "North Carolina has seen a lot of improvement with legislature like smoking in restaurants, but our rates are still a lot higher than other states."

In the report, the state struggled with obesity with more than one in four adults being obese. The state had 2,144,000 adults reported as being obese.

That contributed to the sedentary lifestyle — or the percentage of adults who do not get any exercise or physical activity outside of their regular employment — to rank 31st in the nation. The report said that 1,967,000 adults in North Carolina are sedentary.

In earlier county rankings, Rutherford County reported that 31 percent of its residents were obese and the same percentage was reported to be physically inactive. The national benchmark in both categories was between 21 and 25 percent.

"In my opinion, the sedentary lifestyle is a big thing," Hines said. "These are choices that people make but, in the same time, if you are living in a community where you don't feel comfortable walking down the street because of no street lights or sidewalks or even safety, you aren't likely to get out and walk.

"It comes down to what do we value for our health. We have become more sedentary and we default to the wrong thing. We should default to our health. It's not about going on a diet, it is about a lifestyle choice and it is a hard thing."

The state also saw an increase in the number of adults who had diabetes. The report said that 803,000 North Carolinians have some form of diabetes.

Smoking did see a decrease across the state in 2012, with 1,606,000 reported as being smokers. The report indicated that the state has exceeded the median average of smokers for the 23rd straight year. In Rutherford County, it was reported that 25 percent of adults are smokers and the national benchmark is 14 percent.

"North Carolina has seen a lot of improvement with legislature like smoking in restaurants, but our rates are still a lot higher than other states," Hines said.

Another determinant factor was public health funding. The report stated that $51 are spend on every one person in the state, ranking it 42nd in the nation in public health spending.

"If you are moving in the right direction, we think we are doing something right but, our funding for local health departments has gone away," Hines said.

Hines said that a lot of the issues surrounded socio-economic factors. Rutherford County received its lowest marks in that category in the county study, ranking 92nd at of 100 counties. Unemployment and children in poverty in Rutherford County were among the highest in the state.

"We have to be careful that we are addressing what we can address and make sure we use the taxpayer dollars wisely," Hines said. "I don't like being 84th, living in Rutherford County. I think we need to work together to try to improve that."