Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

March 26, 2013

Last for health

County rankings demand action

— — Here we go again. Another year and another report that ranks our local counties at or near the bottom of the health-care barrel when it comes to the well being of our citizens and children.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Because local leaders are either choosing to ignore these annual reports, or are simply failing to take corrective action to address these alarming statistics. And that’s simply unacceptable.

We learned last week that McDowell County — for the fourth year in a row — has been ranked last in an annual study to determine the health of West Virginia residents. And Mercer County also was ranked near the bottom of the report. Also troubling is the fact that Tazewell and Buchanan counties in neighboring Southwest Virginia also faired poorly this year, ranking 132 and 131 respectively in a study detailing the well being of citizens in the Commonwealth’s 133 counties and localities.

In the study, released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin, researchers graded counties based on health factors including smoking, excessive drinking, birth weight, obesity, teen pregnancy, number of fast food restaurants, access to healthy food, the number of children living in poverty and levels of education. It ranked McDowell County 55 out of the state’s 55 counties.

According to the study, McDowell ranked last in the state for mortality with more than 17,600 residents at risk for premature death. Approximately 33 percent of county residents were classified as in “poor or fair health.” The survey also found 36 percent of adult residents smoke, 33 percent are obese, 44 percent are physically inactive and 10 percent drink excessively. It adds that one in five residents are uninsured and only 46 percent of eligible women receive mammograms. The study also found 46 percent of the county’s children live below the poverty line and the teen birth rate is nearly double the state average.

In Mercer County, 25 percent of residents were ranked by the study as being in “poor or fair health” and 34 percent of the county’s children ranked as living in poverty. The study found 34 percent of Mercer County adults are obese, 28 percent smoke, 35 percent are physically inactive and 6 percent drink excessively.

Tazewell County ranked second lowest in the state for mortality with more than 13,100 residents at risk for premature death. Tazewell also ranked lowest in the state for morbidity with 29 percent of residents in “poor or fair health.” The report also found that 10.5 percent of babies born in the county have lower than average birth weights. And Buchanan County ranked third lowest in the state for morbidity with 9 percent of residents in “poor or fair health” and 8.8 percent of babies in the county having low birth weights. Buchanan also ranked second lowest in the state for clinical care with 16 percent of residents being uninsured, low numbers of primary care physicians and dentists, and only half the eligible women in the county having mammography screenings.

These statistics are unacceptable — particularly for repeat offenders McDowell and Mercer counties. And they must be viewed as a call to action for elected officials, health care leaders, community advocate groups and others.

We have to do better. And we can do better when it comes to the well being of our citizens and children. How much longer must we linger at the bottom of every study before we finally take action?

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