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Of 100 NC Counties, Watauga Ranks Third; Avery 22nd; and Ashe 42nd Overall in Annual Health Rankings

By Jesse Wood

March 22, 2013. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at the University of Wisconsin released its annual county health rankings on Wednesday.

Watauga County fared extremely well in the overall health rankings, coming in third out of the 100 counties in North Carolina, while Avery County and Ashe County ranked 22nd and 42nd, respectively.

Historical rankings are only compiled for the past four years – 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010 – at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

In each of those years, Watauga County has been situated in the top 10, and its current overall heath ranking has never been higher.

In 2010, Avery County recorded its highest ranking at 52, and Ashe County recorded its lowest ranking at 29. The rankings of those counties have reversed with Avery steadily rising while Ashe County steadily falls.

Here’s the rankings for the past four years:

Ashe – 42
Avery – 22
Watauga – 3

Ashe – 37
Avery – 15
Watauga – 6

Ashe – 32
Avery – 45
Watauga – 4

Ashe – 29
Avery – 52
Watauga – 8 

The rankings are based on a model of population health emphasizing policies and programs; health factors and health outcomes. For example, the health factors and health outcomes are weighted.

Health Factors: 

  • Physical Environment – consisting of environmental quality and built environment – accounts for 10 percent of the health factor score.
  • Social and Economic Factors – consisting of education, employment, income, family & social support and community safety – account for 40 percent of the health factor score.
  • Clinical Care – consisting of access to care and quality of care – make up 20 percent of the health factor score.
  • Health Behaviors – consisting of tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol use and sexual activity – account for 30 percent of the health factor score.

As for the Health Outcomes score, mortality and morbidity both are weighted for 50 percent.

All three counties have more than 20 percent of the population without insurance, which is higher than the state average, which stands at 19 percent.

Ratio to primary care physicians gap is huge in Avery County, where 3,550 people exist per one primary care physician. It’s 1,950 to 1 in Ashe and 1,245 to 1 in Watauga. That has a 3 percent weight in the health factors. The average in North Carolina is 1,480 persons to 1 physician.

Less folks smoke in Watauga than in Avery and Ashe, yet more of them drink excessively. Watauga has more than twice the amount of people who binge drink than people residing in Avery and considerably more than those living in Ashe County.

As for water quality, 16 percent of the Avery County population has been exposed to water exceeding a violation limit during the past year, while zero percent of Ashe and Watauga populations have been exposed to that. This has a 2 percent rank in the health factors.

As for premature deaths: 5,173 Wataugans per population of 100,000 die before the age of 75. In Avery, it is 6,812 people and Ashe 7,521 people out of 100,000 that die before 75.  The national average is 7,480. Watauga ranks 4 in this stat with Avery 12 and Ashe 31.

Morbidity means how healthy people feel when they are alive. Watauga ranks fifth in the state on this measure, while Ashe ranks 58 and Avery ranks 36.

Other notes:

  • Avery County has zero percent access to “healthy foods.”
  • Ashe and Avery Counties are above the state average for the percentage of children with poverty.
  • Avery County has one dentist for every 10,083 people, about five times worse than state average
  • Avery ranks dead last out of 100 counties as far as the Clinical Care – access to quality care – factor.
  • Watauga has 25 percent of population diagnosed as obese, Avery sits at 30 percent, and Ashe is 30 percent. The state average is 29 percent. 

Look below to view all the factors or click to www.countyhealthrankings.org.

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