Report spells out county health issues, health department direction

Published 7:27 pm Monday, July 15, 2019

“One third of Beaufort County is obese. Obesity contributes to many chronic disease conditions.”

The statement is one of many conclusions to be found in the 2018 Beaufort County Community Health Needs Assessment, a study that paints a picture of local health — the good and the bad.

Released every four years, the study is the culmination of data-gathering by the Beaufort County Health Department, which promotes survey-taking across each demographic.

“We put it out as much as possible — online, health fairs, events, libraries, doctors’ offices,” said JaNell Lewis, human services planner and preparedness coordinator at the Beaufort County Health Department.

According to the assessment, the top significant health needs of the county are access to healthcare, cancer, diabetes, economy, education, exercise, weight and nutrition, other chronic diseases, prevention and safety, substance abuse and transportation. Four, however, were selected as priority areas: access to health services, including mental health; exercise, nutrition and weight; education; and substance abuse. The final result will determine where the health department focuses on community health for the next three years.

“It helps guide our efforts in grants we go for and in bringing programs to the county,” Lewis said. “The health department’s job is to look at (the assessment) and see what we can do to have positive effects on the community’s health.”

The programs created by past community health assessments include diabetes management and, now, diabetes prevention, as the disease continues to be a major issue for adults in Beaufort County.

“Obesity is a contributing developer in diabetes,” Lewis said.

That 34.7% of Beaufort County residents are considered obese—compared with 29.6% of North Carolinians and 28% of Americans—goes hand-in-hand with the prevalence of the disease.

“I know that a thing that we do not like to see is an increase in adult diabetes in young people. … There’s a lot of contributing factors. The simplicity of it is we are eating more, and we are moving less,” Lewis said. “We’re starting to see this at younger ages. You’re seeing it across North Carolina, as well, but you’re definitely going see it in rural counties.”

Beaufort County residents also experience a higher rate of cancer: where 163.5 people die from cancer in the U.S. and 169.3 in North Carolina, that number jumps to 193.6 per 100,000 in the county.

Another issue facing residents is a lack of access to healthcare, according to the study. In the U.S., there are 75 primary care providers per 100,000 people; in North Carolina, there are 71 per 100,000 people. In Beaufort County, that number plummets to 48. The lack of readily available appointments, which could be exacerbated by lack of transportation and/or no health insurance, could impact the health of the community.

“If individuals aren’t seeking regular attention, it’s more likely that something will develop,” Lewis said.

Included among the statistics are samples of survey takers’ thoughts on the issues, many of which focus on the poverty level.

“Poverty and socioeconomic status plays a large role in keeping a community from being healthy. There are many barriers associated with poverty, such as affording healthy food, having the transportation to get where they need to go, as well as lack of education regarding food choice or even more in depth stuff such as health, calories, etc.,” wrote one partipant.

But not all the news was bad, according to Lewis.

Beaufort County’s violent crime rate is on a downward trend, and the county has a lower percentage of severe housing problems and adults and children living below the poverty level than the North Carolina average and most other HealthENC counties — the 32 other counties participating in the health assessment.

“Obviously, we’d love that to be zero, but it does show we’re doing better than North Carolina and many of the other HealthENC counties,” Lewis said.

The statistics revealed by the report may not be great, but the purpose behind it is, according to Lewis.

“A lot of this isn’t new. It’s been this way for a long time, but it takes more than four years to see that needle move. But we’re working on it now so that 20-40 years down the road, we will see the impact from our efforts now,” Lewis said.