Community's health is tied to its residents' well being

aluck@tidewaterreview.com

New Kent County is one of the healthiest localities in Virginia — while King William falls in the middle and King and Queen falls last among the three localities.

The annual report on county health rankings, released in March, looked at several factors that contribute to a healthy community, such as affordable housing, social and economic factors and access to clinical medical care, according to a news release by County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The report has two main categories of health; health outcomes and factors. Health outcomes looks at how and where a locality falls on general health indicators such as premature death and poor or fair health. Health factors considers behaviors and access to things that can affect a person’s health both directly and indirectly, such as smoking, access to exercise, teen births and obesity.

Ali Havrilla, an action learning coach with the organization, said outcomes weigh the state of the locality’s present-day health, while factors look at issues localities can address in the future.

New Kent ranks in the top 25 of 133 localities in both categories, 20 in health factors and 25 in health outcomes.

King William falls in the middle of the pack at 45 in health outcomes and trails slightly behind New Kent in health factors at 29.

King and Queen falls behind the midpoint, coming in at 75 in health outcomes and 101 in health factors.

With New Kent in the top 25, Chickahominy Health District (including New Kent) director Thomas Franck said that improvements to the county’s health outcomes and factors should continue for years to come.

“It’s important to focus on health factors, as they lead to the health outcomes of the future,” Franck said.

New Kent has the largest population of the three localities at 21,682 and is the second fastest growing locality in Virginia, according to a study published earlier this year by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. The county continues to see growing health resources for residents.

King William has a population of 16,708 and King and Queen has 7,003, according to the health rankings report.

Population does not have a direct impact on the health outcomes or factors, according to Havrilla.

“Not everybody has the same opportunity to be healthy where they live,” Havrilla said.

One big factor that helps determine a county’s health outcome ranking is quality of life, which is measured by poor/fair health, poor physical health days, poor mental health days and low birth weight.

New Kent comes in at 12 of 133 in quality-of-life measures, with King William at 38 and King and Queen at 89.

Havrilla said quality-of-life rankings can provide insight if their is a concern about a localities access to medical care.

Lisa Lauier, population health manager for the Three Rivers Health District, which includes King William and King and Queen, said she believes the disparities between King William and King and Queen have to do with the amount of medical care practices in the county, as well as proximity to places that have greater medical care, such as Richmond.

“King William is closer to Richmond. People can go to Mechanicsville and Richmond from there,” Laurier said. “There are very few health providers in King and Queen County.”

Laurier said education and income also make a big difference in the health outcomes.

King William has a graduation rate of 94 percent (students who finish high school in four years); King and Queen is at 74 percent.

“People who graduate are usually less likely to smoke, more likely to exercise and be in better physical health,” Laurier said.

In terms of adult obesity, at 26 percent, King William has a lower percentage of obese adults than the state average of 29 percent.

New Kent is 1 percent higher at 30 percent, and King and Queen is at 35 percent.

Access to exercise opportunities may also be a factor in the percent of obese adults.

According to the report, 82 percent of residents in New Kent have access to exercise opportunities, while King William comes in at 51 percent and King and Queen reports 15 percent.

Laurier said she found the obesity and exercise opportunity percentages for King and Queen surprising, as it is a rural county with lots of natural resources that may permit exercise.

“A lot of residents do work outside, which is exercise, but this study doesn’t count work opportunities,” Laurier said “In terms of formal exercise opportunities, there are few.”

Franck said with the pace of growth in New Kent, access to exercise opportunities and medical care should continue to increase.

As for the number of teen births in the region, defined as a health behavior factor, New Kent and King William have lower percentages of teen births than the state average, while King and Queen ranks higher.

The state has a teen birth rate of 19 births per 1,000 girls from ages 15 to 19, with New Kent at 14 percent, King William at 17 percent and King and Queen at 26 percent.

Laurier said the drastic difference could be caused by lack of health resources or insurance.

When it comes to length of life, which is factored by premature deaths, New Kent is ranked 43, while King and Queen ranked 49 and King William stood at 59 of 133 localities.

The purpose of the annual report is to have communities work together to address growing health concerns, according to Havrilla.

“Communities can come together to develop a comprehensive strategy that’s tailored to the needs of their community based on what the data is showing,” Havrilla said.

This may be the push communities need to create better access to health care, healthy food, medicine and transportation for residents, according to Havrilla.

Want to learn more?

Visit countyhealthrankings.org to see the annual county health rankings report

Luck can be reached at 757-291-2038, aluck@tidewaterreview.com or @ashleyrluck on Twitter

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