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Suffolk ranks in the middle on health

The city of Suffolk ranks near the middle of new statewide health rankings released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The County Health Rankings show how cities and counties in Virginia compare on residents’ health and factors that influence health. The rankings are based on the assumption that a number of health factors — including health behaviors, access to and quality of clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment — influence health outcomes like length and quality of life.

“The purpose is to really look at health outcomes and determinants in cities and counties across the state,” said Dr. Lisa McCoy, director of the Western Tidewater Health Department. “It depends on a lot of different things, like individual behaviors, what your health care quality is like, whether there are enough jobs and education, and your physical environment. I really like looking at it from that frame of reference because it’s a community approach.”

Virginia is ranked 72 overall out of 132 districts, putting it near the middle — but still in the bottom half — of the rankings. Its rank for health factors is slightly higher at 69. The No. 1-ranked locality in the state was Fairfax County.

“When I look through these rankings, it’s not a surprise to me,” McCoy said, noting that several initiatives already have been launched to “do what we as a community need to do to take us to the next level.”

The rankings measured localities on 28 different outcomes and factors, and also reported the state average and target value, which is set at the 90th percentile of all localities — meaning only 10 percent of localities are better. Outcomes measured included premature death, low birth weight and poor physical health. Factors included health behaviors like adult smoking, adult obesity and binge drinking; clinical care factors like the rate of diabetic screenings and uninsured adults; social and economic factors like education, unemployment and single-parent households; and physical environment factors like air pollution and access to healthy foods.

Suffolk missed meeting the target value in all categories but one — air pollution particulate matter days. Suffolk has zero reported such days, which equals the target value. The state average was one.

The rankings are based on data collected from various sources between 2000 and 2008. McCoy said the years used are the most recent ones for which data are available, because it takes time to collect and analyze statistics.

Bobbie Chapman, the interim director of Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community, said the partnership will use the data in its strategic planning.

“Suffolk is not at the bottom,” Chapman said. “We’re sort of in the middle on some things. Certainly we have some things to address, and I think we’re all aware of that.”

The partnership currently uses MAPP data — Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnering — to focus its efforts. It now will use that and the new study, Chpaman said.

“What the statistics allow localities to do is compare themselves on an apples to apples basis to communities across the state,” Chapman said. “We will be doing that. I know many organizations will.”

To help change the data, McCoy said the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community and other entities can help educate people.

“It’s really going to take a community effort,” McCoy said.

McCoy added individual citizens can easily help turn the numbers around by practicing a healthy lifestyle.

“There are things that individuals can do to impact individual health, like eating right, exercising, getting the physical checkups we all need to stay healthy,” McCoy said.

To read the full report, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.