Health in N.C.: Dismal Numbers
S ince North Carolina boasts several first-rate regional medical centers, including our own FirstHealth of the Carolinas, it would be easy to think of our state as an exemplar in the field of health care.
Not so. The statistics tell a different story. Sadly, a recent national survey by the United Health Foundation ranks North Carolina a dismal 33rd - well below the 50th percentile - in overall health. This is an intolerable state of affairs that must be addressed at every level, from our living rooms to the General Assembly.
At the heart of several health issues lies one central one: a 29 percent obesity rate, determined by a formula that measures body mass index. Put at its crudest, that means that nearly a third of us are way too fat. And that brings with it a host of other problems, ranging from heart disease to diabetes to hypertension to various kinds of cancer.
A Diabetes Epidemic
Even more alarming than the obesity rate for the population in general is that for children - which has been accompanied, predictably, by a dramatic rise in the rate of juvenile-onset type 2 diabetes. The statistics for this malady, at the national level as well as the state one, show it to be inflicting itself at an ever-earlier age, robbing more and more children of the carefree youth they deserve.
Granted, many if not most of the health problems increasingly displayed by North Carolinians result from bad individual habits over which officials in Raleigh have little or no control. Adults and kids alike - but especially kids - consume too much sugar, often from way too much in the way of the kinds of heavily sweetened soft drinks to which we are increasingly addicted.
Furthermore, too many of us get too little exercise. And in many families, often passed from generation to generation, is a tendency to avoid doctors' offices except in emergencies - thus allowing undiagnosed illnesses to reach the crisis level. And we tend to frequent fast-food restaurants, which too often feature oversized servings loaded with fat.
Public and Private Steps
So this is mostly an issue to be addressed by individuals and families. But there are things the state could be doing better as well. Its most appropriate role - one in which the new survey also found North Carolina lacking - is in doing a better job of tracking public health, so that it has more reliable information on which to act.
Then there is the public education function, involving doing a better job of using the media to get the word out about diet, exercise and other ways of preserving wellness for members of all generations. More nurses could be sent into more schools to educate young people on health issues.
It's not an easy problem to tackle. But tackle it we must. At both private and public levels, North Carolinians need to make a serious New Year's resolution to improve our statistical standing in future health studies. We owe it to each other, and we owe it to ourselves.
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