More than one in four adults in York and James City counties are obese and fewer than one in five exercise on a regular basis, but those two counties still rank as the healthiest on the Peninsula. The counties also rank among the 10 healthiest localities statewide based on a wide variety of health, economic, social and environmental measures
The fifth annual report by the National Association of City and County Health Officials for a second straight year ranked the two counties fifth and sixth out of 133 Virginia communities. Ahead of them are the fast-growing, high-income counties of Northern Virginia – Loudon, Fairfax, Arlington — and Albemarle.
"The County Health rankings show everyone that where we live matters to our health and serves as an excellent tool to raise awareness about the health of our communities. ... I find them to be a wonderful, galvanizing tool ... to consider the possibility that perhaps health should be a consideration in all public policy," Nzinga Teule-Hekima, who oversees both the Peninsula Health District and the Hampton Health District, wrote in an email.
Other Peninsula localities covered the spectrum in the rankings: Poquoson — 15; Mathews — 36; Isle of Wight — 38; Gloucester — 52; Hampton — 75; Newport News — 83; and Williamsburg — 101. Among nearby cities, Virginia Beach ranked 28th, Norfolk 106th and Portsmouth 116th.
The rankings, produced in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, use two sets of measures — "health outcomes" and "health factors." The outcomes are determined equally by length and quality of life, while the factors are determined by behaviors — smoking, obesity, alcohol use, sexual activity (30 percent); access to and quality of care (20 percent); socioeconomics (40 percent); and the physical environment (10 percent). For the first time, the rankings considered housing, transit, mental health providers and drug use.
Despite their obesity rates James City County ranked fifth and York County sixth for overall health behaviors.
Both counties have low smoking rates — below 10 percent — and excellent access to quality health care. Both scored well on environmental health.
The report noted a constancy without regard to boundaries in the incidence of diabetes, with a low of 9 percent in York, 11 percent in James City County, Newport News and Poquoson, and 12 percent in Hampton. There was also little difference in the number of "mentally unhealthy" days reported in various communities.
There have been improvements throughout the region in terms of improved access to medical care and lower smoking rates, according to Teule-Hekima, citing a partnership with Project Care, which provides free specialty care to the indigent. "The health department has focused on many of the indicators and issues, such as smoking, chronic disease treatment and obesity, and has definitely seen some improvement as a result," she said.
Residents in the two healthiest communities have a median income of more than $75,000, the highest on the Peninsula after Poquoson with $84,000.
Williamsburg, which ranked tops for physical surroundings, fell down on both quality and length of life. The city's residents have a median income of $44,200, with one in three children qualifying for free school lunches. It also has one of the highest incidences of low birthweight babies at 12.2 percent, a high incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, and close to the highest unemployment rate in the state.
The city scored well on housing and transportation and had low rates of drug and alcohol abuse. (Missing data for Williamsburg, including smoking, may have skewed its overall ranking of 101).
Williamsburg's percentage of single-parent households, almost half, is the same as in Hampton and Newport News, where 25 percent of children live in poverty and almost one in five households are "food insecure." It also has the highest percentage of residents — 17 percent — who lack health insurance. The 10 percent uninsured in Poquoson and York was the lowest in the region.
The huge disparity between length and quality of life between residents of Williamsburg and James City County is driven largely by socioeconomic factors, which includes education, number of children living in poverty and violent crime. JCC ranked 12th in socioeconomic factors, Williamsburg 104th.
To find how your locality rates, go to http://www.countyhealthrankings.org.
Salasky can be reached by phone at 757-247-4784.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun