CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Jefferson County, Putnam County and Monongalia County again lead West Virginia in terms of overall health while Wyoming County, Mingo County and McDowell County remain at the bottom in the latest County Health Rankings report.
On Wednesday, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute released the 2017 health numbers, based on 30 factors, for almost every county in the United States.
“We see the County Health Rankings as an annual checkup and we see it as an opportunity to begin a conversation in communities about the solutions, the things that we can do to help improve our health,” said Shawna Davie, program associate for the RWJF.
In West Virginia, the counties currently considered the healthiest for health outcomes, meaning how long people live and how they feel, were as follows:
The counties considered the unhealthiest for health outcomes were the following:
See the full list HERE.
At the top and bottom, there were few changes from 2016 when Pleasants County was No. 4, Tucker County No. 5, Mingo County No. 53 and Wyoming County No. 54.
In Jefferson County, the healthiest, the report found about 18 percent of people are considered to be in poor to fair health. The adult smoking rate is 21 percent while adult obesity is at 33 percent.
In McDowell County, the unhealthiest, 30 percent of people are considered in poor to fair health. The adult smoking rate is 29 percent while adult obesity is at 42 percent.
Statewide, 24 percent of people are considered in poor to fair health, double the rate in the top performing U.S. counties. The adult smoking rate in West Virginia is 26 percent while adult obesity is at 35 percent, according to the report.
Davie noted, though, there are good things happening for health even in counties rated the lowest in the report, which are largely those in southern West Virginia.
“For McDowell County, for instance, the adult obesity rate continues to increase and that’s something that we don’t want to see, but the high school graduation rate is very high and near the top performers, both in West Virginia and in the U.S.,” Davie told MetroNews.
“For Jefferson County, the high school graduation rate is also very high, but the children in poverty rate is not where we want it to be.”
Davie said it showed every community has positives for health along with places that need improvement.
This year, researchers focused on increasing trends in premature death rates among younger people, ages 15 to 44, across the U.S. and in West Virginia.
The climbing numbers in that demographic were largely blamed on the opioid epidemic in the report.
“Rural areas, in particular, have higher rates of premature death than other areas and, in terms of drug overdoses, that is absolutely a crisis that has affected all community types, but we have most certainly seen an accelerated rate in suburban and smaller metro counties,” Davie explained.
In those suburban counties nationally, she said premature deaths due to drug overdoses have jumped from the lowest rate to the highest rate in the past decade.
“Overdose deaths are entirely preventable and so we don’t have to have these premature deaths take place,” said Davie.
In West Virginia, lower rates of premature deaths, meaning deaths before age 75, were reported in seven counties between 1997 to 2014. Those counties were Ohio, Morgan, Monongalia, Mineral, Jefferson, Gilmer and Berkeley.
Increases in premature death rates were recorded in 21 other counties, with McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming again among the worst along with other counties in southern West Virginia.
Among the factors used to determine overall county health were poverty, education, transportation, housing and jobs in the rankings which have been released annually for the past eight years.
“The County Health Rankings show us that where we live matters to our health and the rankings give us a snapshot of how well and how long we’re living,” Davie said.