Despite improvements, disparities remain in Rowan health outcomes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 14, 2018

SALISBURY — Rowan County is now rated 62nd in terms of health outcomes among North Carolina’s 100 counties.

In 2017, Rowan was listed at No. 73, meaning the county has improved in a variety of factors that increase both length and quality of life.

The findings come from the ninth annual County Health Rankings, released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The rankings use data in areas such as medical care, access to healthy food and exercise, housing, education and jobs.

Year-over-year, Rowan County residents saw a 4 percent increase in access to exercise opportunities from 2017 to 2018. Rowan’s percentage of uninsured people under 65 decreased 3 percent.

Unemployment decreased half a percent, now sitting at 5.5 percent of the population over 16.

The incidents of teen births decreased as well, dropping to 35 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19. In 2017, that number was 42 per 1,000.

But according to a news release, this year’s analyses showed that a lack of opportunity – in education, jobs and affordable housing – disproportionately affected people of color.

For black female teenagers, the birth rate was 46 per 1,000. For Hispanic teens, the number rose to 70 per 1,000. It fell to 27 per 1,000 for white teens.

Rowan’s percentage of children living in poverty fell from 27 percent to 26 percent in 2018. Children of color lag behind their white peers: 48 percent of black children and 38 percent of Hispanic children live in poverty, compared to 18 percent of white children.

According to the report’s researchers, poverty limits opportunity and increases the chance of poor health. Researchers found that children in poverty are less likely to have access to well-resourced and quality schools and have fewer chances to be prepared for living-wage jobs.

State health experts are developing strategies focused on investing in the health of all North Carolinians.

“We need to do more to address the true underlying drivers of health, if we want to see improvements and decrease health care costs,” said Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, state health director and chief medical officer. “Our vision is a North Carolina that optimizes health and well-being for all people by effectively stewarding resources that bridge our communities and our healthcare system.”

Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, agreed.

“We can’t be a healthy, thriving nation if we continue to leave entire communities and populations behind,” said Besser. “Every community should use their County Health Rankings data, work together, and find solutions so that all babies, kids, and adults — regardless of their race or ethnicity — have the same opportunities to be healthy.”