First, the good news: Wake and Orange Counties are the first and second healthiest counties in North Carolina, respectively.
The bad news? North Carolina, as a state, isn’t healthy at all.
The County Health Rankings, an annual study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, have been released, and Triangle-area counties are on the better end of the list. Aside from Wake and Orange, which swapped spots this year (the N&O speculated that Orange’s increasing rates of income inequality, adult smoking, and STDs contributed to its slight drop), Chatham County placed eighth and Durham County ranked fifteenth. Since the study started in 2010, Wake has claimed the mantle of North Carolina’s healthiest county six out of seven times.
On a statewide level, however, North Carolina is below average. The 2015 America’s Health Rankings, released this past December, had North Carolina at thirty-first in the country overall, although it does remarkably better than every other state in the South sans Virginia and Florida. The “weaknesses” ascribed to North Carolina in last year’s report included “low per capita public health funding” and “large disparity in health status by income level.” (Take note, legislators.)
So how does Wake compare against the top counties in North Carolina’s neighboring states? Not all that great. Wake sees more premature deaths (forty-seven hundred per year) than Loudoun County, Virginia, Forsyth County, Georgia, and Williamson County, Tennessee, although it sees around nine hundred fewer premature deaths than South Carolina’s healthiest county, Beaufort. In terms of access to physical fitness, though, Wake County beats all of NC’s neighbors, with 91 percent of the county having access to exercise opportunities. That could improve even more once Raleigh’s bike sharing program is fully implemented.
And if you’re one of those nine in ten Wake County residents with easy access to exercise, today wouldn’t be a bad day to celebrate the only time that Wake beat Orange in anything this year by taking advantage of some of the nearly three hundred miles of greenway trails countywide.