By Kim Walter
The health of Northern Shenandoah Valley residents is similar to that of residents statewide as reported in the United Health Foundation's 2012 America's Health Rankings, according to Charles Devine, director of the Lord Fairfax Health District.
The report, released Tuesday, ranked Virginia 21st compared to the overall health of other states. The ranking is up two slots from last year's results.
Virginia's strengths included low violent crime, fewer poor mental and physical health days and a low percentage of children in poverty. The state's challenges also were highlighted, and included low immunization coverage, high geographic disparity within the state and the high prevalence of obesity and diabetes.
According to the release, the nation's health improved this year through increased survival rates, but that was offset by "escalating rates" of chronic illness. Obesity and diabetes numbers were described as at an "epidemic proportion" and sedentary behavior is at "dangerous levels."
Devine said the state's result didn't necessarily surprise him, but that wasn't a bad thing.
"It shows that Virginia is headed in the right direction," he said Wednesday. "I'm very gratified to see that."
When it comes to how the health of Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties compare to the state's, Devine said the data was very similar.
"In some areas we were below that state's numbers, in others we were above, but either way it wasn't by much," he said.
According to data on the America's Health Rankings website, 29.2 percent of adult Virginians are obese, compared to 27.8 percent nationally. In the health district, Devine said every county but Clarke is just above that average, with 30 percent of adults in Shenandoah County being obese.
The data also reported that one in 10 Virginians has diabetes, which Devine said probably reflects the increasing number of those with adult onset or type 2 diabetes.
"I think all of these numbers -- the obesity, the diabetes, the heart problems -- are related to one common issue," Devine said. "The medical system can address complications coming from these diseases, but they can't solve the underlying problem of excessive sedentary behavior."
Virginia's data suggests that one in four adults in the state are physically inactive, which is slightly less than the national average.
Another contributing factor, Devine said, is the smoking population. Virginia reports that 20.9 percent of the population smokes, compared to 21.2 percent nationally.
Frederick County is close to those numbers with 22 percent of its residents identifying as smokers, and Shenandoah County coming in slightly higher with 23 percent. Twenty-nine percent of Warren County residents are smokers.
Virginia has set a goal to get the smoking population down to 12 percent by 2020, which Devine calls "ambitious."
"Getting these rankings are very helpful ... it lets us know where we are and where we're going," he said. "Now health officials can make this information available to the community and begin to develop actions that can be taken locally to improve the factors that lead to the health of the community."
Devine added that the local interest in changing the community's health is encouraging. The school systems participate in a youth risk behaviors survey, which Devine says makes it apparent what issues need to be addressed so that interventions can take place sooner rather than later.
"I don't think we are the same as every other community in the state," Devine said of the health district. "Yes, we have our challenges, but within those challenges lie opportunities. And thankfully we have people here who are very interested in taking the opportunity to improve our health ... I am convinced of that."
To view the national rankings, go to americashealthrankings.org.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org