A national study released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute shows that Buncombe County remains one of the top 20 counties in the state for overall county health rankings for the third year in a row. However, the No. 19 ranking was a drop from the No. 14 spot held by the county last year. (A comparison of the rankings from 2012 to 2013 can be found at the end of this article.)
The County Health Rankings project looks at health outcomes and health factors through a total of six major categories: mortality, morbidity, health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.
This year, Buncombe County ranked as one of the top 20 counties in the state for five out of six of the aforementioned categories: mortality (18th), morbidity (17th), health behaviors (7th), clinical care (6th) and social and economic factors (15th). However, when it came to the physical environment, which looks at areas such as fast food restaurants, access to healthy food and drinking water safety, the county ranked 74th in the state, a decline from the 59th spot held last year in the same category.
The project determines those overall category rankings through the 30 different measures. When compared to state averages, Buncombe meets or exceeds the averages for 24 of the 30 measures.
Despite the decline in the physical environment category, Buncombe County made significant strides in the percentage rate of the low-income population with limited access to healthy foods, which improved by 44 percent (This year, 9 percent of the low-income population had limited access to health foods compared to last year’s 16 percent). In this study, low income is defined as having an annual family income of less than or equal to 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold for the family size.
Though Buncombe ranks in the top 20 compared to other North Carolina counties, when compared to national benchmarks, the county only meets or exceeds in six of the 30 measures.
And even if Buncombe had managed to take the No.1 spot (those bragging rights belong to Wake County), according to the American Health Rankings 2012, North Carolina ranked No. 33 in the nation for overall health in 2012 — only better than 17 other states.