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North Carolina Up in National Health Ranking While Nation Plateaus

Smoking, Obesity Rates Cited as Key Areas for Improvement

For release: Immediate    December 6, 2011
Contact: Julie Henry (919) 855-4840


Rapidly rising obesity rates and continued tobacco use among North Carolinians are two of the state’s most significant health challenges, according to the latest issue of America’s Health Rankings. The report, released this week, profiles all 50 states in a variety of health measures. North Carolina is now ranked 32nd in the nation for overall health, up from 35th last year and from 37th in 2008.

“While any improvement is encouraging, we still have a long way to go to improve the health of all North Carolinians,” Gov. Bev Perdue said. “Now is not the time to cut critical funding to health care and prevention among the most vulnerable members of our communities.”

North Carolina was recognized for progress in reducing smoking rates among adults over the past decade; however, the report also points out more than 1.4 million adults still smoke in the state.

“The passage of the smoke-free bars and restaurants law was a tremendous milestone for public health in North Carolina,” State Health Director Jeff Engel said. “Not only has it improved the health of restaurant workers by not exposing them to secondhand smoke, but also is expected to save an estimated $4.7 million per year in avoidable medical care costs for hospitality workers. We already have seen a 21 percent decrease in heart attacks associated with implementation of the law, which was implemented and enforced by state and local public health agencies using no new resources. Through policy change, we have seen and will continue to see real results in improved health.”

The smoke-free legislation also has been a catalyst for local municipalities to enact smoke-free ordinances. In a 2010 State Survey, 81 of 100 county governments and more than 200 city/town governments reported they have implemented 100% Smoke Free or Tobacco Free Buildings. North Carolina also has 100 percent tobacco-free campus policies in all public schools, all hospitals, all prisons and half of its community colleges. State-operated mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities are working towards 100 percent tobacco-free policies as well.

The Health Rankings report notes that North Carolina’s rising obesity rates are mirrored in increased diabetes rates, with an estimated 711,000 adults with diabetes in the state. While state efforts include a strong emphasis on chronic disease management to keep people with diabetes healthy, the N.C. Division of Public Health also is working in numerous communities to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes by promoting healthy eating and physical activity.

“Through activities like Corner Store Initiatives to offer healthier foods and drinks for the people who shop there, to making communities more walkable and bike-able, we are focusing on sustainable lifestyle changes,” Engel said. “But it is only through continued investment at the local, state and national level in prevention efforts like these that we will see our overall health ranking improve.”

The following list provides a look at some local efforts to build healthy and safe communities and empower individuals to make healthy choices across our state.

  • Pitt, Nash and Edgecombe counties are working with corner and convenience stores to offer healthier foods and drinks for the people who shop there. This Healthy Corner Store Initiative is an example of engaging partners in making healthier foods more accessible to low-income families.
  • The Appalachian District Board of Health recently adopted a Complete Streets resolution, as did the town of West Jefferson. This is an important first step in making the cities and towns in Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany Counties more walkable and bike-able, which will increase residents’ ability to be more physically active.
  • Students at Mabel Elementary School in Watauga County are participating in “Growing Success,” a school-wide project that involves not only planting and harvesting vegetables in a school garden, but also learning about permaculture, a philosophy about working with nature, and making their own compost.
  • Wilmington’s Bike Boulevard connects residents to places in downtown Wilmington like schools, museums and the farmers’ market. The city even kicked in an attractive discount voucher program for anyone who rides their bicycle to the market, essentially rewarding residents for being healthy.
  • Victory Tabernacle Church in Lillington launched a Faithful Families Eating Smart and Moving More program, a nine-session course to promote nutrition and physical activity in a faith context. The church also made changes to its own food and activity policies, opening its new gym and workout rooms to church members three nights a week, marking off a walking path on church grounds and helping people track their efforts, and offering water and 100% fruit juice at events instead of sodas.
  • Boone was the first local government to pass ordinances that remove smoking from all public places. Boone’s law, enforced by the town policy department, went into effect February 2010. “This ordinance will greatly improve the quality of life for our citizens,” said Beth Lovett, health director of the Appalachian District, which includes Boone. “We are proud of our elected officials for taking this bold step to eliminate secondhand smoke in our community.”

For contact information, contact Julie Henry at 919-855-4840 or julie.henry@dhhs.nc.gov.

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