A state-by-state look at the nation’s health shows North Carolina improved its ranking this year, rising to 31st from 37th, with the state scoring among the best in the nation in childhood immunizations.
But America’s Health Rankings from the United Health Foundation also showed the infant mortality rate remains high in North Carolina compared with other states. The report also lists as challenges a paucity of dentists, lower public health funding, and a health disparity between adults with high school diplomas and those with more education.
The foundation is a nonprofit organization established by the UnitedHealth Group insurance company. The foundation has been compiling the report for 25 years, using publicly available information.
The rankings are based on indicators such as the percentage of adult smokers, people with diabetes, children in poverty and cancer deaths.
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The report is important because of its “breadth and depth,” said Dr. Randall Williams, deputy secretary of health services at the state Department of Health and Human Services.
The report ranks North Carolina second in the nation in childhood immunization, with nearly 81 percent of children 19 to 35 months receiving recommended vaccinations. The state ranked first in the percentage of girls 13 to 17 years old receiving human papillomaviruses (HPV) vaccine, at 54 percent.
Childhood immunization has been a strength for years, said Danny Staley, director of the Public Health Division at DHHS. He attributed the relatively high rates to work raising awareness of immunization requirements with schools and day care centers, and pediatricians and family practitioners explaining the importance to parents.
A few years ago, the state adopted a rule requiring a set of immunizations for students entering seventh grade, Staley said. HPV vaccine is not required, but “it’s important for providers to do education and give that option,” he said.
North Carolina ranks 42nd in infant mortality, measured by the number of deaths in infants younger than 1 year old for every 1,000 live births. The infant mortality rate is 7.2 per 1,000, according to the report.
Williams said DHHS Secretary Rick Brajer is focused on reducing the infant mortality rate. The department in 2016 is launching a pilot program in targeted counties in the northeastern, southeastern and western regions of the state.
The program will involve local health departments, private foundations, nonprofit agencies and others, Williams said, looking at ways to implement strategies such as smoking cessation and coordination of maternity care.
The department “will use this as we go to the legislature and others as a kind of call to action,” Williams said of the report.
N.C. health indicators and ranking
▪ 33rd in diabetes — Percentage of adults who report being told by a doctor they have diabetes: 10.8 percent
▪ 44th in dentists — Number of practicing dentists per 100,000 people: 47.9
▪ 42nd in public health funding — State and federal dollars per person: $43.87
▪ 9th in binge drinking — Four drinks for women, five for men, on at least one occasion in the last month: 13.6 percent
▪ 48th in disparity in health status — The difference in the percentage of adults 25 and older, with and without high school diplomas, who report their health as very good or excellent: 36.4 percent
The report can be found at www.americashealthrankings.org/
Source: United Health Foundation