Health Report: Is Coos County Really The Worst And Rockingham The Best?

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The report is available here

By Chris Jensen

Coos is the least-healthy county in the state, according to a new annual study by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute in cooperation with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

But in a few areas, the difference between Coos and Rockingham County, which ranked as the healthiest county, were not huge.

The 2017 report says its findings overall continue to show that nationwide rural communities have the most serious health problems.

And that includes Coos, said Nancy Frank, the chief executive officer of The North Country Health Consortium.

“I think a lot of it is related to poverty and our economy that is not growing in any significant way,” she told InDepthNH.org.

She said problems include access to medical care, in some cases because people lack transportation. In addition, she said, the population tends to be older with the accompanying age-related medical problems.

There are programs in Coos working to improve health, including reducing drug use and encouraging healthier lifestyles, but these take time, according to Frank.

“Some of our work is just ongoing,” she said.

If the Affordable Care Act is repealed without a good substitute the situation for Coos will be worse, Frank said.

Researchers say the report was compiled using “a variety of national data sources” including surveys. It considered a wide range of factors, said Jan O’Neill, an associate researcher with the county health rankings.

“What is good health about? It is about so much more than medical care. It is not just seeing a doctor,” O’Neill said.

So, the information gathered included social and economic factors such as children living in single-parent household or at the poverty level as well as education.

In a few categories Rockingham and Coos were very close.

* Fourteen percent of Coos adults considered themselves to be in “poor or fair” health. That compares to 10 percent in Rockingham.
* Seventeen percent of the Coos adults smoke compared to 14 percent in Rockingham.
* Seventeen percent of Coos adults say they engage in “binge or heavy drinking,” compared to 19 percent in Rockingham.
* Coos County has a better patient-to-primary care doctor ratio than Rockingham. Coos County has one doctor for every 880 residents. In Rockingham there is one primary care doctor for every 1,210 residents.
* Coos residents reported that in a 30-day period they had 3.9 “physically unhealthy” days compared to 2.9 days for Rockingham residents.
* Coos residents reported that in a 30-day period they had 3.8 days of “poor mental health,” compared to 3.6 days for Rockingham residents.

But in other areas the differences were sharper.

* Twenty-three percent of the children in Coos live in poverty, compared to seven percent in Rockingham.
* There is one mental health provider for every 760 Coos residents compared to one for every 510 Rockingham residents.
* Forty-one percent of the Coos children live in single-parent homes compared to 23 percent in Rockingham.
* Thirty-one percent of the Coos adults consider themselves obese compared to 26 percent in Rockingham.
* Twenty-six percent of Coos adults report no physical, leisure-time activity. That compares to 19 percent in Rockingham.
* Fifteen percent of Coos adults say they have no health insurance compared to 9 percent in Rockingham.
* Coos County has one dentist for every 1,840 residents compared to 1,420 in Rockingham.

Chris Jensen covers the North Country for InDepthNH.org, a non-profit news outlet published online by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism. Jensen worked as a reporter at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland for 25 years, has freelanced for the last decade to The New York Times and previously covered The North Country for New Hampshire Public Radio.

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