Map: North Carolina’s healthiest counties also have the strongest economies


Where there is money, there is good health.

It’s probably not a shocking revelation, but two recent reports crystallize it visually.

  • One, released Wednesday by the University of Wisconsin’s Institute of Population Health, ranks North Carolina’s 100 counties in terms of health outcomes and factors (map above for health factors, with lighter shades for healthier counties).
  • The other, released in November by the North Carolina Department of Commerce, measures economic distress (map below, with darkest shades for the least economically challenged counties).

Screenshot: North Carolina Department of Commerce level designation annual report. Level 1 is the most economically distressed; Level 3 is the lowest.

Why is this important: Economic stress is a health risk.

Details: An Axios analysis of counties ranked in the top 10 for health outcomes (length and quality of life) shows that all are among the 25 least economically challenged counties.

  • Mecklenburg, for example, ranks 6th in health outcomes and is the 84th least-stressed economy.
  • Wake County, where Raleigh is located, is No. 1 in health outcomes and 98th in economic distress.
  • Union, neighbor of Mecklenburg to the east: n° 3 and 96th.

How it works: In the county health ranking report, “health outcomes” measure how long we live and how good that life is, and “health factors” include smoking, exercise, sexual activity, education, access to healthcare and the quality of air and water .

  • The economic report analyzes four factors: the average unemployment rate, the median household income, the percentage of population growth, the adjusted property tax.
  • The health report notes that the government benchmark suggests childcare is no longer affordable if it exceeds 7% of a household’s income. According to the report, the typical cost burden in the United States is 25% and in North Carolina it is 29% – in Mecklenburg, the average family spends between 28% and 33% of its income on child care. children.
  • “Health is so multidimensional, Paul Delamater, an assistant professor of geography at UNC-Chapel Hill, told Lucille Sherman of Axios Raleigh last week. “All of these things influence health, and all of these things can be used to measure our health.”

Between the lines: The loss of dedicated health care facilities in rural areas has been one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. 10 rural hospitals have closed in North Carolina since 2005, according to UNC’s Sheps Center for Health Services Research. Five others closed in South Carolina during this time.

  • Meanwhile, nine rural hospitals have been purchased by large private equity firms.
  • And as big urban providers like Atrium Health and Novant expand their work into rural areas, it’s hard to replace the old community hospital’s intangibles.

I spent several weeks exploring the fallout in eastern North Carolina following the closure of Pungo Hospital, for The Guardian and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

Sheps Center director Mark Holmes told me then that hospitals and health care facilities are more than accessories to a community: they are building blocks.

  • “When the Hartford Whalers left Hartford and came to Raleigh, ESPN called them the old Hartford Whalers for years. They couldn’t get over losing their pro team,” Holmes said.
  • “It’s a bit the same thing: we are a real city because we have a hospital. We are a real city because we have a professional sports team. These things provide social fabric, which we know is important for a healthy community.

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