Isle of Wight ranks among healthier counties

Published 9:19 am Wednesday, April 4, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Isle of Wight County is just shy of being in the top 25 percent of Virginia localities when it comes to overall health outcomes. 

The county came in at 35 out of 133 Virginia localities, with a lower number being better, in an annual nationwide survey recently released by the Robert Wood Foundation. 

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In response to the annual rankings, local public health officials use the data to target limited resources, and in Isle of Wight County, that’s diabetes screening. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Since Isle of Wight is doing fairly well, compared to other localities in the Western Tidewater Health District, the health department has pinpointed diabetes screening as a focal point for the county, said Dr. Christopher Wilson.  

The main goal is to increase the number of screenings, he said.

The other localities in the Western Tidewater District are the cities of Franklin and Suffolk and Southampton County, which ranked 127, 59 and 69 in health outcomes, respectively. 

Wilson said Isle of Wight has a diverse population, with its more suburban northern end compared to the very rural southern portion of the county, and that can lead to disparities in access to health care as well as other factors, he said. 

Diabetes is affected by high blood pressure, obesity and lack of exercise, Wilson said, noting that Isle of Wight and Smithfield have made strides recently in adding recreational facilities such as Windsor Castle Park, the Joseph W. Luter Jr. sports complex and the bike and pedestrian trail from Smithfield to Carrollton Nike Park. 

Isle of Wight County’s overall ranking has remained fairly steady over the past 10 years, ranging from 45 in 2010 to 32 in 2011. 

The study teases apart many factors affecting health, such as behavior, such as smoking, drinking and exercise, quality of life, social and economic factors, such as income and education, and the physical environment. 

Isle of Wight’s lowest rating, of 123, came under physical environment, which noted that nearly half of residents have a long commute alone to work, as compared to 39 percent statewide. 

The county also received a “yes” for drinking water violations, but the study noted that a “yes” would be indicated if just one community water system had received a violation. 

For air pollution, Isle of Wight was slightly less than the rest of the state and is improving, according to the study. 

By comparison, Williamsburg, which ranked third in physical environment, has just 19 percent of its population making a long commute to work. 

When it comes to low birth weight and children in poverty, Isle of Wight is below the average for Virginia. Hispanics in Isle of Wight had the highest number of children in poverty, at 41 percent, followed by black children at 12 percent. Thirteen percent of white children in Isle of Wight County live in poverty, according to the study. However, Isle of Wight County’s Hispanic population is low, at 2.9 percent, according to the U.S. Census. 

As with many measures in Virginia, the northern part of the state leads in positive health outcomes, while other areas, such as Petersburg, Emporia and Martinsville score much lower. 

Those three localities all had high unemployment and high rates of child poverty — factors associated with poor health.

“A lot of it has to do with things we call social determinants of health,” said Bob Hicks, Virginia’s deputy commissioner for community health services. “Where there is high unemployment and where there are schools not performing and the kids aren’t educated to a certain level, we see these trends continuing in poor health outcomes.”

Hicks and his team at the Virginia Department of Health use the statistics from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to start conversations about communities’ health needs and to work with residents to best utilize resources.

“We require each of the local health directors to be involved in doing a community health assessment,” Hicks said. “Resources are always limited so the assessment results in a ranking by the stakeholders [in the community] of what they would like to see addressed.”

Caitlin Barbieri with Capital News Service contributed to this report.  {/mprestriction}