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Report: Rowan health improves, but ranking stays the same

Despite demonstrating improved scores in multiple health categories, including quality of life and health behaviors, Rowan County failed this year to improve its ranking as 68th in the state, according to data recently released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The county didn’t lose ground, either.
The 2014 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, released Wednesday, indicate Rowan County remained static in terms of overall health outcomes.
Cabarrus County moved from No. 10 to No. 9 this year.
The annual county health rankings measure vital health factors, including high school graduation rates, obesity, smoking, unemployment, access to healthy foods, quality of air and water, income and teen births in almost every county in the country.
The annual rankings serve both as a snapshot of how health is influenced by where people live, learn, work and play as well as a starting point for mobilizing change in the community.
Regarding quality of life, Rowan County improved from 78 to 69 from last year.
In social and economic factors, the county jumped from 64 to 53.
Rowan County Allied Health Manager Steve Joslin said although the county has seen improvement, the data-gathering techniques used to compile the report are suspect.
According to the report, Rowan County had 33 percent of the adult population obese compared to the state average of 29 percent.
“When you look at the data gathering, some of it is self-reported. You call ‘x’ number of people, (and see) how many (report) poor or fair health,” Joslin said. “A lot of the measures they pull from are national and state data sources. There is some science when they look at the health outcomes and health factors.”
Rowan County ultimately looks for trends, Joslin said, and the health department has actively been addressing the issues of smoking, obesity and tobacco use in the community — including pushing to ban tobacco use in parks.
“The bottom line is understanding that our ranking is only one part of mobilizing action. We’ll use this information and try to implement evidence-informed policies and programs to inform and educate,” Joslin said.
Collaborating with the health care and business entities is crucial in the pursuit of garnering a healthier community, Joslin said.
“We’ll focus on what is important and look at what our needs are,” Joslin said. “The availability of that is based on how much money and how much staff we have. (Rowan County) could be the lowest in the state.”
Cabarrus County always has done a good job of setting the pace, Joslin said, and that makes Rowan County health department officials try harder.
“The county health rankings shed some light on where we should continue to focus our efforts,” said Dr. William Pilkington, CEO and public health director of Cabarrus Health Alliance. “In a time of limited funding, this is helpful to review aside our locally completed community needs assessment.”
In a written statement, Pilkington said the improved overall health outcome for Cabarrus County is another indicator of the community’s effort to collaborate and improve the quality of life for its people.
Cabarrus Health Alliance will continue to benchmark the county’s rankings against the top performers in the country, Pilkington said.
“Areas in which we fall behind include adult obesity, excessive drinking, injury deaths and air pollution,” Pilkington said. “Two new measures included in this report are driving alone to work and a long commute. These two things mean people are sedentary in their cars for longer and often by themselves without social support.”
Areas in which Pilkington said Cabarrus County is “on course or better than the national average” include diabetic and mammography screenings.
For the full report on both Rowan and Cabarrus counties, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.
Contact reporter Jim Holt at 704-797-4246.

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