County’s report shows little improvement in health outcomes

Published 12:10 am Sunday, April 30, 2017

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — Rowan County residents are making little, if any, improvements in personal health, according to a report released last week.

The report showed slight declines in tobacco use. Meanwhile, obesity and prescription drug abuse rates increased, according to the 2016 State of the County Health Report.

Compiled by the Rowan County Health Department, the report aims to examine progress in priority areas selected for a community health assessment last year. The priority areas were tobacco use, prescription drug abuse and obesity.

In tobacco use, there appears to be some progress, said Rowan County Health Education Specialist Steve Joslin.

The number of adult smokers dropped by 5 percent from 2015 to 2016. The number of smokers dropped by a larger margin from 2010 to 2016. Roughly 30 percent of adults in Rowan County smoked in 2010. That number is now 20 percent.

A local decrease in the number of smokers might be related to the passage of legislation in 2010 that prevent smoking in bars and restaurants, according to the report.

Still, Rowan County’s number of smokers tops the state average of 19 percent, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the number of obese adults in Rowan County stayed the same from 2015 to 2016, according to the report. From 2010 to 2016, the number of obese adults increased from 30 percent of the population to 34 percent.

The Centers for Disease Control considers a person obese if he or she has a body mass index that’s greater than 30. For example, a person who’s 69 inches tall — 5’9’’ — would be considered obese if he or she is heavier than 203 pounds.

Like smoking, Rowan County’s number of obese people tops the state average, according to the report.

“With obesity, we’re just an obese county and we don’t seem to be going anywhere,” Joslin said.

Prescription drug abuse in Rowan County is a similar, but not identical story.

Rowan County hit its highest point ever for opiate poisoning deaths in 2015 — 29, according to the report. After, Rowan County reached the same level in 2011, it appeared opiate poisoning deaths were on a decline in 2013, but the death rate has increased in the two years since.

Statistics are not available for opiate poisoning deaths in 2016 or 2017.

Neither the report nor the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services provide a state average for opiate poisoning deaths. However, Rowan saw more opiate poisoning deaths in 2015 than any of its neighboring counties. Additionally, none of the five counties that border Rowan have seen 29 people die from opiate poisoning deaths in a calendar year. Rowan County has reached that mark twice.

Despite negative health trends, Joslin and Healthy Rowan Executive Director Alyssa Smith said local programs are planned or exist to improve rates of tobacco use, obesity and opiate poisoning deaths.

For example, law enforcement from July 2016 to November 2016 removed 192 pounds of unwanted, unused and expired medication from five of nine medication-take back boxes around the county, Smith and Joslin said. Drop boxes are located at locations such as China Grove Town Hall and Granite Quarry Town Hall.

Joslin said 135 overdose rescue kits will be distributed to nine participating pharmacies in the area. Those kits will be distributed for free.

For obesity, the report notes three programs the Rowan County Health Department hopes to start or improve upon by 2019. The following are those programs:

• hands-on nutrition tours for low-income adults at local stores

• increasing the number of redeemed farmers market nutrition vouchers, which are associated with the program most commonly known as WIC

• implementing environmental and policy changes that support a healthier lifestyle at two local churches

Several programs are underway related to tobacco use, Smith and Joslin said. Those programs include: Tobacco Free Rowan, which encourages businesses to adopt tobacco-free policies; Young Lungs at Play, which aims to eliminate child exposure to secondhand smoke in public parks and playgrounds and Project Alert, which provides tobacco-related curriculum to middle-schoolers.

To view the full 2016, State of the County Health Report visit:

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.