Posted by: Barry | May 12, 2010

Mingo County: one of the unhealthiest counties in West Virginia — and the nation

I’ve been spending time going over an important new study sent my way by Sr. Jane Harrington, a member of ABLE Families’ board of directors.  It provides a snapshot of the overall health of the residents of every county in the state.  Here’s the bottom line for us here: Mingo County is one of the unhealthiest counties in West Virginia, which is one of the unhealthiest states in the nation.

County Health Rankings 2010 is actually a collection of 50 studies, one for each state in the nation, comparing the health status of every county in each state.  It’s presented by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.  It’s West Virginia’s rankings that has my attention, of course.

The study ranks counties according to health outcomes and health factors.  Health outcomes include mortality (length of life) and morbidity (quality of life).  Health factors include the following categories: health behaviors (tobacco use, diet & exercise, alcohol use, unsafe sex); clinical care (access to care, quality of care); social and economic factors (education, employment, income, family and social support, community safety); and physical environment (environmental quality, built environment). 

How’d we do?

In the overall ranking of health outcomes, Mingo ranks 54th out of 55 counties

In the overall ranking of health factors, Mingo ranks 54th out of 55 counties.

Yeah, oy

(Sidenote: What’s this unfortunate 55th county, you ask?  West Virginians know without being told — Mingo’s neighboring McDowell County, which is almost in a class all its own after the utter economic devastation it has endured for the past several decades.)

Looking closer at the Mingo County statistics is no more encouraging.  Within the health outcomes category are the two factors of mortality and morbidity (quality of life).  For mortality, we rank 54 out of 55.  For morbidity, we rank — you guessed it — 54 out of 55.

And those categories within health factors?  If you’re getting depressed, you might want to stop reading. 

For health behaviors (tobacco use, diet & exercise, alcohol use, unsafe sex), we’re at the very bottom, even below McDowell: 55th out of 55 counties.

For clinical care (access to care, quality of care), we’re 54th out of 55 counties.

For social and economic factors (education, employment, income, family and social support, community safety), we’re 48th out of 55 counties.

And finally, physical environment (environmental quality, built environment) is the only category for which we’re not in the bottom ten: 44th out of 55.

There’s plenty of explanation of the categories and statistics in the full report, which you can find here (.pdf file).  This report looks at West Virginia counties, and although there’s a corresponding report for every other state in the nation, they do not make state-to-state comparisons.  However, plenty of other evidence (like this, this, and this) suggests that West Virginia is one of the unhealthiest states in America.  That puts Mingo County in a pretty sad situation.

And it puts ABLE Families — with high quality programs like our nutrition education program, Supper in a Sack; our in-home family education program on maternal and infant health, MIHOW; and our afterschool program, which provides a daily nutritious snack and exercise to local kids — on the front lines of a pretty important battle. 

And considering the obvious fact that the county’s health has everything to do with the county’s poverty, the rest of our programs, all aimed at confronting the systemic causes of the poverty, are just as important in that battle, too.

The County Health Rankings 2010 report frustrates and depresses me, no doubt about it.  (I’m raising kids here, after all!)  But it also gives me another darn good reason to get up and come to work in the morning.  We have work to do.

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