Study: Wood County not so healthy

PARKERSBURG – Wood County has been listed as not so healthy among counties in West Virginia.

Monongalia is the healthiest county and McDowell is the least healthy county, according to a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institution.

“These rankings tend to bounce around from year to year and I am not sure how these numbers are collected or calculated to reach these rankings,” said Dick Wittberg, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department. “But they seem to be accurate in how our health is affected by the area in which we live.”

The study, which was released March 20, ranks West Virginia’s 55 counties from healthiest to least healthy using two factors: health outcomes and health factors.

The annual rankings assess nearly every county in each of the 50 states based on high school graduation rates, obesity, smoking, family and social support and other factors that influence health, according to the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. The rankings this year also include the number of dentists per residents and other measures previously not factored.

“These rankings prove what we have known for a long time,” Wittberg said. “That poverty, the economic situation and education all influence how healthy the population of an area is.”

In this year’s study, Wood County ranked 32nd in the state, a far cry from last year’s listing of 18th in the overall outcomes, which is the mortality and morbidity.

“This is strictly outcomes, which is the death rate,” Wittberg said. “I guess some bad accidents where young people died could have affected our ranking, but I just don’t know.”

Wittberg pointed out that while the county’s overall ranking has not favorably changed, the overall health factors have and the county ranks at 14 of 55 for health behaviors, which include drinking, smoking and teen birth rate.

Other health behaviors are clinical care, which includes the number of dentists in the area, health screenings and uninsured residents; social and economic factors, including unemployment, children in poverty and violent crime rate; and physical environment, including air quality, drinking water safety and number of fast food restaurants.

“The numbers for our area are going in opposite directions and I don’t know why,” Wittberg said. “With the health factors improving, it does show that we are doing something right and educating our community members on their health.”

Wittberg said a separate study several years ago may explain why Wood County’s overall outcome is so low.

“In my opinion, we probably have some undiagnosed high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other factors that are contributing to the overall number,” he said.

The Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department provides services to five other counties whose rankings in the study are greater than Wood’s: Pleasants is seventh, Calhoun is 26th, Ritchie is 11th, Roane is 13th and Wirt is 22nd.

“The rankings is very interesting for our region,” Wittberg said. “For Wood County to be so low compared to the others, I just can’t explain the reasons.”

The five healthiest counties are Monongalia, Pendleton, Doddridge, Jefferson and Hampshire. The five least healthy counties are McDowell, Wyoming, Mingo, Logan and Boone. The study pointed out the healthiest counties are in the north and eastern portion while the unhealthiest are in the coalfields of Southern West Virginia.

In Ohio, Washington County ranked at 46th of 88 in the overall health outcomes and 28th for health factors.

For the complete list, visit the study’s website at: