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Report Ranks Mecklenburg As 5th Healthiest County In State

 The 2018 North Carolina health outcomes map.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Mecklenburg County was ranked the fifth healthiest county in the state. That’s according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report. The annual study looks at how long people live and how healthy their lifestyles are. But there are some less-than-pleasant details.

The health outcomes for Mecklenburg County residents are on par with state and national averages including lifespan, but the county doesn’t rank as well when it comes to healthy behaviors. The county’s public health director Gibbie Harris says that’s important because those factors determine the future health of a community.

Mecklenburg County has significantly higher rates of sexually transmitted infections than both the state and country on average. Those infections can increase the risk of future health problems, as well as premature death, and are expensive to treat.  Harris is aware of the problem and says stopping the spread of STI’s is a top priority for the health department.

“The challenge we have is with the growing population is just keeping up with it," she said.  "The sheer numbers of people that need to be tested and that we need to be reaching out to continues to increase.”

Harris has other priorities as well, like keeping down the rates of smoking, obesity and making sure people have access to food. Based on this report, she said the department may need to start paying more attention to alcohol-impaired driving deaths and violent crime because Mecklenburg fared worse in both those areas compared to other counties and the national average.

Among the healthiest places in South Carolina are two Upstate counties, York and Greenville. Spartanburg, was also highlighted for reducing teen birth rates by almost two thirds in the past decade. That’s in part thanks to a series of programs funded through a federal grant. Molly Metz, who represents the Mary Black Foundation which secured the grant, said in 2008 Spartanburg would have been able to fill 25 kindergarten classrooms with kids born to teen moms. But those circumstances have changed drastically.

“Because of the decrease in the number of children birthed to teens, we would be hard-pressed to fill probably 10 classrooms," Metz said. "There has been a significant difference and that is going to be seen long term.”

Metz said the teen birth rate disparity between black and white people have also disappeared. In 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the teen birth rate stands at 23 births for every 1,000 people — for both black and white teens. That’s down from 2008 when the teen birth rates in Spartanburg were 81 per 1,000 teens for black mothers and 51.3 per 1,000  white mothers.

Metz says federal funding for the program is ending two years earlier than expected because of Trump administration budget cuts. Metz is in the process of looking for other funding sources.