McDowell County worst on health rankings; other southern counties rank poorly
By Wendy Holdren Register-Herald Reporter
McDowell County ranks as West Virginia's least healthy county, according to the 2017 Robert Wood Johnson County Health Rankings.
Other southern counties ranked in the top five with the poorest health — Mingo, Wyoming, Logan and Mercer.
Not much higher in the rankings were Fayette (No. 48), Raleigh (No. 45), Nicholas (No. 43) and Summers (No. 41) of the state's 55 counties.
"The rankings show that where you live influences how well and how long you live," said a release from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "The local level data makes it clear that good health is influenced by many factors beyond medical care, including housing, education, jobs, access to healthy foods and more."
According to the County Health Rankings' data, 42 percent of adult residents in McDowell County are obese. Nearly 30 percent of adults are smokers, and 14 percent of the population is uninsured.
The high school graduation rate is 80 percent, but the unemployment rate is 13 percent. Nearly half of children in the county are living in poverty.
Wyoming County has an adult obesity rate of 39 percent, and an adult smoking rate of 25 percent. Roughly 11 percent of Wyoming County residents are uninsured.
The high school graduation rate is 89 percent, and the unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent. Just more than 30 percent of the county's children are living in poverty.
In Fayette and Raleigh counties, 36 percent of adults are obese. The populations have a 12 and 11 percent uninsured rate, respectively.
Just less than 30 percent of kids in Fayette and Raleigh live in poverty, where the high school graduation rate is 83 percent in both counties. In Fayette, the unemployment rate is 8.3 percent. In Raleigh, it's 7.3 percent.
The county that ranked highest for health outcomes in The Register-Herald region was Greenbrier County (No. 25). Still, 34 percent of the county's residents are considered obese, 12 percent are uninsured, and 27 percent of children there live in poverty. The unemployment rate is 6.5 percent.
"The rankings allow local leaders to clearly see and prioritize the challenges they face — whether it's rising premature death rates or the growing drug overdose epidemic — so they can bring community leaders and residents together to find solutions," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, RWJF president and CEO.
The five healthiest counties, starting with the most healthy, are Jefferson, Putnam, Monongalia, Upshur and Marshall.
• • •
This year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation took a closer look at premature deaths (deaths occurring among people under age 75) in assigning county health rankings.
In exploring West Virginia's premature death trends from 1997 to 2014, the Foundation found seven counties (Berkeley, Gilmer, Jefferson, Mineral, Monongalia, Morgan and Ohio) have seen improvements in premature death rates, while 21 have seen worsening rates and the rest saw no change.
McDowell again had the worst ranking in this category, followed by Mingo and Wyoming counties.
Raleigh, Nicholas, Monroe, Mingo, Mercer, Greenbrier and Fayette counties were also among the counties with worsening rates.
Nationally, overdose deaths have fueled a dramatic increase in premature deaths among 15- to 44-year-olds.
From 2014 to 2015, the report said 85 percent of the increase in premature deaths can be attributed to a swift increase in deaths among these younger populations.
The report said while myriad issues contributed to the rise, the drug overdose epidemic is the leading cause of death among 25- to 44-year-olds and is a clear driver of this trend.
Drug deaths are also accelerating among 15- to 24-year-olds, but nearly three times as many people in this age group die by homicide, suicide or in motor vehicle crashes.
• • •
This year's County Health Rankings also introduced a new measure focused on young people, those 16 to 24 who are not in school or working.
About 4.9 million young people in the U.S. — one out of eight — fall into this category.
Rates of youth disconnection are higher in rural counties (21.6 percent), particularly those in the South and West, than in urban ones (13.7 percent).
In McDowell County, 43 percent of youth are "disconnected." Nicholas County has a rate of 26 percent; Wyoming County, 25 percent; and Mercer, Fayette and Raleigh, 23 percent.
"Young adults who are not in school or working represent untapped potential in our communities and our nation that we can't afford to waste," said Dr. Julie Willems Van Dijik, director of the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps.
"Communities addressing issues such as poverty, unemployment, and education can make a difference creating opportunities for all youth and young adults. The County Health Rankings are an important springboard for conversations on how to do just that."