County improves on infant death rates, dental care

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin

Salisbury Post

If it had been based on the traditional grading scale, the coordinator of the Healthy Rowan! Task Force says Rowan County would have gotten a B minus on its 2006 Quality of Life Report Card.

Dr. Jim Cowan says there are areas in which the county is doing very well. “Then there are certainly areas in which we’re doing poorly,” he says, “and in many areas, we’re essentially doing OK.

We’re always striving to do better. We would love to have straight A’s on our report card.”

Cowan, also the Allied Health Services director for the Rowan Health Department, says the results show that in areas where the county put energy into addressing a particular problem, the scores improved.

“If we don’t put our resources and time and effort into it, then we aren’t making a difference,” he says.

Developed by the task force, the report card compares the county’s percentages and statistics on health, crime, the economy, social well-being, education and civic participation (voting) to the state averages in those areas.

Health was the primary component of the report card, covering everything from teen pregnancy rates, disease incidence and death rates to the percentages of overweight children and children with untreated dental decay.

An area in which the county has shown improvement, Cowan says, is the infant death disparity between white and black babies. “Historically, Rowan County has had infant death rates that have been upwards of 2.5 times greater among black babies as compared to white babies,” he says.

Through community efforts, that rate was been lowered to 1.31 times higher for the years 2001-2005. This is lower than the state average for that time period of 2.62 times higher. “We’re definitely headed in the right direction,” Cowan says.

He credits Health Link for helping to lower the county’s rate. The community-based initiative was formed in October of 1998 to eliminate illness, death and school readiness disparities among minority children.

Another area in which the county improved is dental care for children.

Twenty-nine percent of Rowan kindergartners screened during the 2006 school year had untreated dental decay. This was down from 32.8 percent the year before, but higher than the state’s average of 21 percent for the 2006 school year.

For fifth-graders, the percentage was lower. During the 2006 school year, 9 percent of Rowan’s fifth-graders had untreated dental decay. Again, this was lower than the previous year’s 11 percent, but still above the state average of 5 percent during the 2006 school year.

When it came to the percentage of fifth-graders with dental sealants, the county also showed improvement from the previous year. Thirty-seven percent of fifth-graders had sealants to protect their teeth from decay in the 2006 school year compared to 27 percent the previous year. The 37 percent is below the state average of 44 percent for the 2006 school year.

Cowan says the efforts of Deborah Krueger, the state-funded public health hygienist assigned to work in Rowan, contributed greatly to better dental health for the county’s children. “She goes above and beyond the requirements of the state to do dental screenings on elementary children,” he says.

The state only requires the screening of children in kindergarten and the third and fifth grades, but Krueger screens children in all of the elementary grades. When she finds a child with a problem, he says, “she works with the school system to assist the parents in securing dental care for that child.”

Compared to the state average, Cowan says the county is still not where it should be on children’s dental care. “But from where we came, we’ve made huge strides forward.”

Though Rowan’s percentage of overweight children, 16.3, is almost the same as the state’s 16.7 percent for the 2006 school year, Cowan says it’s still too high. School and health officials are collecting data on students’ body-mass indexes so that they can also determine what percentage are at risk for being overweight.

Two programs are under way in the elementary schools to address the issue of overweight children, including fresh fruit and vegetable snacks being served to children once a day through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Cowan says Libby Post, director of nutrition services for the Rowan-Salisbury Schools, worked with the health department to secure the grant to provide the snacks at four elementary schools. “Several hundred thousand dollars worth of fruits and vegetables have been offered for free.”

The Rowan Partnership for Community Health is also collaborating with the school system to implement the ABCs of Nutrition in the four schools, whereby class lessons would include information about nutrition.

A math lesson plan, for example, might require students to determine what foods could be combined to achieve their daily calorie requirements. “So they’re learning math at the same time that they’re learning nutrition,” he says.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction is also requiring elementary students to receive 30 minutes of physical activity every day and middle school students to receive even more than that.

Rowan’s teen pregnancy rates were higher than the state average, according to the Qualify of Life Report Card. The pregnancy rate for 15-to-19-year-olds was 70.7 out of every 1,000 girls for 2005 compared to the state average of 61.7 out of every 1,000. Repeat teen pregnancies for the same age group were also higher for 2005, 29.3 percent compared to the state average of 28.6 percent.

The county was higher than the state average in 2001-2005 death rates from heart disease, diabetes, lung cancer, breast cancer, suicide, motor vehicle accidents and all other unintentional deaths. Rowan’s heart disease death rate, for example, was 268.5 per 100,000 people compared to the state’s 226.8.

For the years 2000-2004, the death disparity between white and minority men and women was also higher in Rowan. There was a 34 percent higher rate for minority men as compared to the state’s 28 percent and a 28 percent higher rate for minority women as compared to the state’s 19 percent.

Rowan also ranked lower than the state average on the number of health care professionals, with the greatest differences in the number of physicians and nurses.

The county had 11.3 physicians per 10,000 population in 2005 compared to the state average of 20.7 and 75.5 nurses per 10,000 population compared to the state average of 92.1.

When it came to crime, Rowan ranked below the state average in all areas except for juvenile arrests. The scores were based on 2004 statistics, which showed there were 31.5 juvenile arrests per 1,000 persons under the age of 18 in the county compared to the state average of 25.1 per 1,000 persons.

As for the economy, Rowan’s unemployment rate was the same as the state’s 4.5 percent, according to March 2006 statistics. Based on 2003 statistics, the county trailed the state in per capita income with $25,326 vs. $28,071 and the median household monthly income with $37,691 vs. $39,438.

In the social well-being component of the report card, Rowan ranked higher than the state in 2005 with 64.2 of every 1,000 children (ages birth to 17 years) being the subject of a Child Protective Services assessment. This compares with the state average of 51.8 of every 1,000.

There were also more children substantiated for child abuse, neglect or in need of services, 13.7 per 1,000. The state average was 12.4 per 1,000.

Rowan was below the state average in education scores and civic participation (voting) components of the Quality of Life Report Card. Based on 2004 statistics, the county led the state in its four-year high school completion rate of 63.7 percent. The state average was 61.9 percent.

When it came to voting, 82.3 percent of Rowan Countians eligible to vote were registered in 2004 compared to the state average of 85.3 percent. Of those, 52 percent of the county’s registered voters actually participated in the 2004 presidential election compared to the state average of 54 percent.

Cowan says the Healthy Rowan! Task Force has developed the annual report card since 2003 using statistics from the previous year except for last year, when he was deployed to Afghanistan through the United States Air Force Reserve.

The purpose of the report card is to raise awareness about the quality of life in Rowan County; highlight areas where policies, initiatives and resources are needed; measure local progress in making the county a better place to live, work and play; and inspire collaboration to solve community health and human service-related problems.

For more information on the report card or to see all of the scores, log onto the Rowan Health Department Web site at

Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or