Report Highlights Urban/Rural Health Divide

Apr 17, 2017

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation green map shows the distribution of North Carolina’s health outcomes, based on an equal weighting of length and quality of life.
Credit County Health Rankings / Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

A new analysis of health statistics shows there is still a divide between rural and urban health outcomes in North Carolina. 

The annual report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows the healthiest counties are Wake, Orange and Union. The worst outcomes were in Edgecombe, Scotland and Robeson counties.

Kate Konkle is a researcher at the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute, which compiles the data. She said socio-economic drivers and access to health care are still the biggest factors in the deepening urban-rural divide.

"There are different opportunities people have to be healthy and where they live in the state of North Carolina really impacts how long they live and how healthy they can be," she said.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation blue map displays North Carolina’s summary ranks for health factors, based on weighted scores for health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment.
Credit County Health Rankings / Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The report also found that a rise in drug overdoses has contributed to a higher rate of premature deaths. Again, those rates are highest in rural counties, but Konkle said the opioid epidemic affects every community.

"We know it's particularly accelerated right now in suburban and smaller metro counties," she said. "Suburban counties actually went from the lowest rate of premature deaths due to drug overdoses to the highest within the last decade.

Residents of some rural counties are nearly three times as likely to die before age 75 than residents of urban counties.