Last week’s release of the latest County Health Rankings saw Floyd County shed its dubious distinction of being the unhealthiest county in the state, in terms of longevity and quality of life.
Instead, Floyd County is merely the second unhealthiest.
Moving up to next-to-last hardly calls for celebration. In fact, we hope that the renewed energy around and attention to the county’s health we saw last year, when the last-place designation was announced, does not let up. If anything, it needs to gain steam.
That isn’t to say that Floyd County hasn’t always had dedicated public health servants in the past. However, the ignominy of the county’s fall to the bottom appeared, from our vantage point, to add urgency to their efforts and a willingness to listen on the part of policymakers. That needs to continue.
There are plenty of reasons for Floyd Countians to be concerned. For one, the county now has the highest rate of diabetes in the state, at 17 percent. However, the county also has one of the lowest rates of diabetes screening, at 77 percent, so it is likely that the actual rate of diabetes could be four percentage points higher than statistics show.
Diabetes is of particular concern because it serves not only as a problem in its own right, but also as a symptom of other problems, such as obesity and physical inactivity. Sure enough, Floyd County is among the worst in both of those areas, with 39 percent of adults classified as obese and, quite coincidentally, 39 percent of adults reporting no leisure-time physical activity.
The obesity and physical inactivity findings are evidence of serious cultural issues at work, which often prove to be the toughest problems to solve. Quite simply, there is little that government can do to make people drop their forks and get their butts off the couch. That is where our school system needs to step in, by placing renewed emphasis on diet and exercise.
The rankings also give us reason to reject old stereotypes — even positive ones. It is often said and widely believed that mountain folk look out for one another like no other place on earth. Yet a survey of 681 residents indicates quite the opposite, with 32 percent reporting feeling as if they have inadequate social and emotional support — the highest rate in the state. That seems quite odd, in a county with one of the highest concentrations of mental health workers in the state.
And when all of the bad news is taken together, it points to the most troubling statistic in the bunch — the rate of premature death. Put simply, Floyd County loses years before the age of 75 at a rate 65 percent higher than the state average and twice the national average. Even worse, the rate is climbing.
This is the singlemost important number in the mountain of statistics released last week, because it gives us the grim reality of what we face if we ignore the evidence in front of us: Floyd County — and for the most part, greater Appalachia — is dying.
On the heels of the SOAR conference and the eve of the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit to Martin County, there has been a lot of talk over the past year about how to improve the region. But all of the goals we set for ourselves, whether we’re talking about a coal industry resurgence or economic diversification, and all of the steps we take to get there, such as new highways or high-speed internet lines, pale in comparison to the health of our people. None of those things matter one jot to a dead man, and all of the decisions we make moving forward should be made with an eye on improving health.
We cannot rest, we cannot give up, we cannot be satisfied until we create a healthier and happier future for ourselves.
— The Floyd County Times