Living in the red-meaty part of the health curve

A lot of people in Alamance County are fat, drink too much, don’t get all the exercise they should, actively ignore healthy foods and have bad mental health days. On more occasions than they can count, many just don’t feel good.

I know, join the club, right? Zack’s hot dogs with Cheerwine taste good. Who wants to get up from the lounger and take a walk – especially if there’s a tasty craft beverage or margarita within grabbing distance? I hear that some people even continue to smoke cigarettes, which defies common sense in terms of health and economy. Even I quit smoking in 2002 because the damn things were too expensive. They smell bad, too.

bad stuffSo yeah, people in Alamance County have a list of bad habits longer than the number of things Republicans and Democrats disagree about — speaking of bad habits.

Anyway, in most ways, though, Alamance County folks are actually pretty average, especially compared to others in North Carolina – we’re right there in the middle – the “meaty part of the curve” as the line of sarcasm usually goes. They’re in the solid C-D range when it comes to overall health and wellness. Not a great grade — barely passing – yet still above failing.

But you know where Alamance County is actually above the state average? Premature deaths.

Suddenly average doesn’t sound like such a passing score after all.

Alamance County health officials have worked for the past several years at improving the overall wellness of residents. The efforts have made some headway, but we still trail nearly all of our immediate neighbors in overall health, according to County Health Rankings, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. It’s an ongoing study of health habits in all 100 North Carolina counties. The latest figures were released earlier this week.

Alamance County ranked No. 48 of 100 – in the middle, the meaty part of the curve. Call it the fatty, red-meaty part of the curve.

While some might argue that it could be worse – and it is in rural Caswell County, our lowest ranked neighbor checking in at No. 64 – it could be far better. Orange County, our highest-ranked neighbor, scored No. 2, trailing Wake County. Alamance and Orange share the city of Mebane. We also trail Chatham (8), Guilford (21) and Randolph – but just barely (47). Even my native county of Stokes, a place almost as rural as Caswell, scored better than Alamance County coming in at No. 38. Hell, smoking was almost invented in Stokes County.

Can we do better? Yes. Should we? I’d say so. At the very least it’s worth discussing.

Welcome to the next topic for our Community Connections forum, this one set for 7 p.m. April 11 at Elon University’s Moseley Center. The title is “The Role of Health and Wellness in the Advancement of a Community.” This will be the third and final forum for the current school year. And even though the national political focus seems to be on the Affordable Care Act and its future, lack of a future or whatever incarnation politicians (who know jack squat about health by the way) come up with, overall public health and wellness is a key part of that discussion often left behind. Healthier people overall puts less strain on a beleaguered health system. For individual communities it also creates clearer thinking people, better workplace production and stronger achievement in education.

In short, a community that cares about the physical and mental health of its citizens is one that’s much stronger, more capable and successful.

So yeah, this is very much worth talking about.

The Community Connections program, as many already know, is a four-year partnership between Elon University – my current employer, and the Burlington Times-News – my former employer. This year I’m helping the program at both sites. It was designed to bring together the Elon campus community and the Alamance County community to have engaging discussions about important issues we face as a nation, a state and a region. Previously this academic year we held sessions about the future of the two-party system and free speech.

No issue out there is drawing more discussion than health these days, but not a lot of time is taken with this part of it – keeping people on track to live healthier lives. And it might be the most significant of all when everything is considered.

We have assembled a strong panel consisting of two local health professionals and one professor at Elon University. One, Kathy Colville, director of Community Outreach for Cone Health, has a strong history of working to improve wellness in Alamance County. She is joined on the panel by Alamance County health director Stacie Saunders and Katherine Johnson, an assistant professor of public health studies at Elon.

Our moderator will be Naeemah Clark, associate professor of communications at Elon. She has handled the job with aplomb for the first two sessions this year.

Remember that admission is free and it’s open to the public. Parking is across the street from the Moseley Center. The meeting area inside is the McKinnon Room. As always, refreshments – including cookies – will be provided after the forum ends at around 8:15 p.m.

In the meantime look for me at Zack’s. I could use a hot dog with a Cheerwine. I’ll have them hold the fries. I’m watching my weight.

One thought on “Living in the red-meaty part of the health curve

  1. Pingback: Poignant moment: ‘What is the county doing?’ about health issues | Madison's Avenue

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