James City, York score high in health rankings of localities

Staff writer

James City County and York County are among the healthiest localities in Virginia, while Williamsburg falls in about the middle of the pack, according to a newly released report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin.

The annual report, released on Tuesday, provides a snapshot of the health of localities within every state in the country. The report argues housing is a foundational aspect of a person’s quality of life and finds that an inability to afford safe, quality, affordable housing is linked to poor health, according to a news release.

The rankings point out that a housing-cost burden translates into other factors, such as childhood poverty. More than half — 55 percent — of Virginia children living in poverty also live in households that spend more than half their income on housing, according to the release. High housing costs can make it difficult to afford healthy food, transportation and medicine, which also contribute to poor health.

“Our homes are inextricably tied to our health,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president and CEO Richard Besser said in the release. “It’s unacceptable that so many individuals and families face barriers to health because of what they have to spend on housing.”

Both James City and York crack the top 20 of the 133 localities that make up Virginia in health outcomes and factors. James City is ranked 20th in health outcomes and eighth in health factors. York is ranked sixth in health outcomes and seventh in health factors. Williamsburg comes in at 58th in health outcomes and 47th in health factors, according to the report.

Williamsburg is in 70th place for lifespan, while James City is in 24th place and York is in sixth place. Lifespan is a factor of the health outcomes ranking.

This year, the report focused on housing and how it’s a cornerstone to the health of individuals and the community, said Ali Havrilla, an action learning coach with County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. The organization is a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Where we live makes a difference,” she said, noting that not everyone has the same access to health resources or quality of housing.

The report details a variety of health indicators and statistics and uses them to determine the overall health of a locality. Health outcomes are a measure of how well localities fare on general indicators of health — such as rate of premature death and birth weight. Health factors are things such as behaviors (smoking, teen births, exercise, excessive drinking), clinical care, social/economic factors and environmental realities that contribute to the health of a person both directly and indirectly. Individual statistics are built from data collected over a variable number of years.

Some information is gleaned from data collected over several years, while other information represents the research of a single year.

With a notably smaller population, individual Williamsburg residents have a greater impact on the city’s rankings than James City or York residents do for their localities. About 15,000 people live in Williamsburg, while about 75,500 live in James City and about 67,700 live in York, according to census data.

For individuals and families, the more money that is spent on housing, the less money there is to be spent on food, education or other things that contribute to good health. There’s also a cost to the community: when residents spend more on housing, there’s greater likelihood of increased childhood poverty, Havrilla said.

In Virginia, 15 percent of homes have severe housing problems. The report defines “severe housing problems” as the percentage of households in a locality with at least one of the following problems: overcrowding, high housing costs, lack of a kitchen or no plumbing.

Severe housing problems plague 20 percent of Williamsburg homes, 13 percent of James City homes and 11 percent of York homes.

In Virginia, 66 percent of housing units are owned by the occupants. Thirteen percent of state households have a severe housing cost burden — that is, they spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing.

In Williamsburg, 47 percent of housing units are owner-occupied, and 20 percent of households are severely cost burdened with housing expenses. Seventy-four percent of the housing units in James City County are owned by the occupants, and 12 percent of county households are severely cost burdened.

In York, 72 percent of housing units are owner-occupied. Ten percent of households have a severe housing cost burden.

The general positioning of the Historic Triangle localities on data points more or less track with how they square with the state on questions of housing: James City and York tend to have a better outlook than Virginia as a whole, while Williamsburg tends to be worse.

Across the state, 14 percent of children live in poverty. Locally, childhood poverty is highest in Williamsburg at 23 percent. In James City, 9 percent of children live in poverty. In York, 6 percent of children live in poverty.

Ten percent of Virginians younger than 65 lack insurance. In Williamsburg, 12 percent of residents younger than 65 are uninsured. Among James City County residents, 8 percent of that population is uninsured. In York, 7 percent of residents younger than 65 are uninsured.

Twenty-nine percent of adult Virginians are obese. Williamsburg has an adult population that is 27 percent obese. Twenty-eight percent of James City County adults are obese, as are 29 percent of York adults.

Locals tends to be less physically inactive than the state average — determined by the number of people 20 years of age or older who report no leisure-time physical activity. Williamsburg comes in right at the state average of 22 percent. In James City, 17 percent of adults are physically inactive. In York, 19 percent of adults are physically inactive.

In the Historic Triangle, teen births are comfortably below the state average of 19 births per 1,000 among girls ages 15 to 19. In Williamsburg there are five per 1,000 girls. In James City, there are 14 teen moms per 1,000 girls. In York there are seven per 1,000 girls.

In Virginia, 8 percent of live births have a low birth weight of less than 2,500 grams. In Williamsburg, the rate of low birth weights is 6 percent. In James City and York, the rate is 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

In Virginia, 87 percent of ninth graders finish high school in four years. All Historic Triangle localities have rates of ninth graders finishing high school in four years above 90 percent.

The report is intended as a springboard, a way to start a conversation about what can be done to improve the health of a community. A community can use the report to consider how to better connect residents with existing resources, or as an impetus to improve social services, Havrilla said.

“There’s an opportunity to come together as a community,” she said. “There is not one single solution.”

2019 county health rankings

The report can be viewed at countyhealthrankings.org.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, jojacobs@vagazette.com, @jajacobs_

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