A state task force says rural communities need more strategic investments and partnerships to improve their residents' health.
The North Carolina Institute of Medicine's Task Force on Rural Health released a report Monday about health disparities in rural counties.
It says many of their childhood nutrition programs need more attention. And local schools need more help to recruit health care professionals who will stay and work in rural North Carolina.
Institute of Medicine president Adam Zolotor says many conditions could improve with better communication between state agencies.
"The Department of Commerce has a program for, say, building rehabilitation and if the Office of Rural Health has a program to place providers in communities, let's make sure the Office of Rural Health knows that new clinic isn't going to be competing with other doctors that are having trouble making ends meet in the community," Zolotor says.
Stanly County manager Andy Lucas is one representative of the rural community on the task force. He says rural counties should also help each other with expenses that could promote healthy habits, like new sidewalks or walking trails.
"We're not going to see any additional resources. We're just going to have to be smarter about how we work together, and make the case for leveraging dollars together versus trying to compete for the same dollars," Lucas says.
The task force says those kinds of economic development projects will improve rural health. Nearly one in four people live below the poverty line in North Carolina's rural counties.