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Watauga State of the County’s Health Report Identifies Public Health Priorities

By Tzar Wilkerson

In a recently released 2019 State of the County’s Health (SOTCH) Report, AppHealthCare presents a variety of facts and statistics concerning demographics, health indicators, and main causes of death in Watauga County. Additionally, the report outlines the top three Public Health Priorities as selected by The Watauga Compassionate Community Initiative at the end of 2017.

Mental and Behavioral Health

The report highlights depression, maternal and child health, and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as some of the most pressing issues with Watauga’s mental health. It also outlines some key statistics about mental and behavioral health issues in Watauga, explaining that the number of adults with a serious mental illness increased from 3.5 percent from 2011-2012 to 4.9 percent from 2013-2014, and that 1 in 5 adults in NC has a mental health condition. AppHealthCare and other local healthcare agencies are combating this rise in mental illness through improved screening, counseling, referral services, case management, and crisis management.

Substance Use and Misuse Prevention

Along with local efforts to limit tobacco use – including the “We Won’t Be Fooled By Juul” campaign at Watauga High School and a city-wide tobacco-free policy being considered by the Town of Boone – AppHealthCare is targeting prescription drug abuse by working with local partners to distribute lockboxes, publicize drop box locations, educate community members, and promote proper disposal of unused or expired prescriptions in each district county. According to the CDC, 89% of deaths from unintentional poisoning in Watauga County were from narcotics. With the opioid epidemic still on the rise, the Watauga County Health Department, AppHealthCare, Watauga Substance Abuse Prevention (WSAP) Coalition, the Watauga Sheriff’s Office and other local organizations are working to control the abuse and misuse of opioids and other prescription drugs.

Physical Activity and Nutrition

AppHealthCare has also targeted obesity, diabetes, and food insecurity. With the increasing diabetes mortality rate on the countywide and statewide levels, AppHealthCare is putting a focus on diabetes self-management education through the “What Can I Eat” program, which helps to educate people who are affected by diabetes. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Map the Meal Gap Study, 2 out of 3 adults and 1 out of 3 children are either overweight or obese. 19% of Watauga’s residents (9,730 people) have limited or uncertain access to enough food – 1 out of 5 of them are children.

AppHealthCare have cited several other key demographics: 19% of children are living in poverty (2017), 15% of children are uninsured (2017) and the leading causes of death are cancer, diseases of the heart, chronic lower respiratory diseases, and Alzheimer’s disease (North Carolina County Health Data Book, 2017). The risk factors that can lead to disease and death include poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and tobacco use.

AppHealthCare’s Health Director, Jennifer Greene, explained: “We use these reports to inform how we can work together as a community to implement program and policy changes that improve health for all people. It takes partnerships across sectors, not just those in public health and healthcare, in addition to action, to improve the health in our community.”

In the interest of maintaining a healthy community, AppHealthCare has also posted the following tips:

What Can We Do Together to Improve Our Community’s Health?

  • Practice safe prescription medication use by taking correctly, storing securely, disposing properly, and never sharing.
  • Health begins where we live, learn, work and play. Take action in building our neighborhood to be safe and healthy.
  • Being healthy takes a community. Attend a Mental Health First Aid training and join local community groups that work to support mental health systems.
  • Your opportunity for health starts long before you need medical care. Sign up for your local Women, Infant & Children (WIC) program through your local health department.
  • The opportunity for health begins in our families, neighborhoods, schools and jobs. Participate in local bike and walk safety programs to and from school. Being healthy takes a community.
  • Your neighborhood or job shouldn’t be hazardous to your health. Support tobacco-free living.
  • Health starts—long before illness—in our homes, schools and jobs. Investing in our mothers and children is investing in our future.
  • Live active, eat local vegetables and fruits.
  • All citizens have the opportunity to make the choices that allow them to live a long, healthy life. Support active transportation including walking and biking.

To obtain a copy of the State of Health report, click here.