The 2018 County Health Rankings report was released today. It found significant health disparities across the state, particularly between the north and south.
The report found that West Virginians living with poor or fair health range between 18 percent of residents in Jefferson County, the healthiest county in the state, to 33 percent in McDowell – the least healthy county in the state.
Almost a quarter of West Virginia children are living in poverty compared to a U.S. rate of 20 percent. The rate of children in poverty ranges by county from 12 to 44 percent.
“That number in West Virginia’s of particular concern given that kids who grow up in poverty don’t have the same opportunity from an early age to take the same healthy life that children with more resources have,” said Jerry Spegman, a community coach with the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps organization.
“That measure really goes to the heart of the purpose of county health rankings,” Spegman said. “Which is to broaden the definition of health and help communities recognize that health is not just a function of having access to good hospitals and good doctors and nurses – it really is a function of a wide range of factors in the community that impact the ability of all of us to have healthy lives and the opportunity for healthy lives.”
Spegman said one of the key findings of the report is that those opportunities are not equably distributed – at all. Where you live matters and if we want to remedy some of West Virginia’s health issues, the focus is going to have to be local and community-wide.
The report concluded with evidence-informed suggestions for community improvement. “Invest in education from early childhood through adulthood.” “Increase or supplement income and support asset development in low income households.” “Ensure that everyone has adequate, affordable health care coverage.” And “foster social connections within communities and cultivate empowered and civically engaged youth.”
But most of these initiatives cost money – a resource West Virginia is in short supply of.
“There are ways to address community health that aren’t entirely dependent on funding,” Spegman said. “On the other hand, it’s undeniable that investments in young children, in their education, in their preparation to be workforce ready will pay long-term dividends. And so, there are some instances in which the lack of resources needs to be addressed head on and policy makers need to take a hard look at the need to invest dollars now in order to provide for a healthier and more prosperous future for their communities moving forward.”
The County Health Rankings are produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The University of Wisconsin
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Marshall Health, Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.