Community health assessment reveals surprising trends in Polk County

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Polk Fit, Fresh & Friendly
By Marjorie Vestal

The Polk Fit, Fresh and Friendly (PF3) Health Coalition is working with the Rutherford Polk McDowell District Health Department, St. Luke’s Hospital and other community partners to complete a Community Health Assessment (CHA). The purpose of the Community Health Assessment is to describe the health status of Polk County and to provide direction for the planning of disease prevention and health promotions services and activities.

Between May and September 2015, more than 220 local Polk County residents were interviewed to better understand local conditions and health behaviors. The data collected represents a broad look at health including: demographics, socioeconomics, health status, health behavior, clinical care, physical environment and quality of life. This data helps local health and human service providers to identify and prioritize the health issues to focus on through a collaborative effort.

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In addition, the Community Health Assessment is designed to be used by local government officials, planners and educators to determine how to best plan and support health and wellness initiatives locally. With local input from key leaders, the CHA provides a snap shot that sheds light on the best strategies to prevent costly diseases especially among vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly.

Some surprising facts from the recent Community Health Assessment include:

  • Childhood poverty rates remain high and the percent of uninsured youth at 11 percent is significantly higher than rates in our region or state.
  • Prevalence of overweight and obese children and adults is still rising.
  • Life expectancy for Polk County residents born in 2011-2013 is 80.2 years.
  • Polk County males have significantly higher mortality rates than females, especially in lung cancer and heart disease.
  • Growth of the elderly population is expected to reach 7,200 persons age 65+ by 2030. This represents an increase by 59 percent in the population age 75-84.
  • The birth rate among Hispanics in Polk County is higher than other racial groups. However, birth rates among all groups have fallen and continue to trend downward.
  • In the period 2009-2013, 17 Polk County residents died as a result of medication or drug overdoses. In a small county, this translates into a significantly higher rate of occurrence (16.9 per 100,000) than in comparable counties and in the state.
  • Tobacco use continues to be a concern with 14 percent of adults reporting current use of traditional cigarettes, 6 percent using e-cigarettes and 3 percent using smokeless tobacco. An alarming 18 percent of Polk County workers report breathing someone else’s cigarette smoke at work during the past week.
  • The economic cost of tobacco use is rising dramatically with the tax burden for Polk County residents from smoking-caused government expenditures at $888 per household per year.

Mr. Jimmy Hines, Health Director for the Rutherford Polk McDowell District Health Department commented, “We know that many factors influence health in our community.  To best address pressing and complex health needs in Polk County, we need to build on our strengths and continue working together in the same direction. We are fortunate that PF3 and St. Luke’s Hospital have provided good leadership working side by side with the public health efforts in reducing the burden of disease. Many efforts are already underway and we continue to look at the results we are getting, what improvements are needed and what gaps remain.”

“By collaborating with other agencies in the community, we believe that we have more reach collectively to affect positive changes through health awareness, education, action and advocacy,” said Ken Shull, chief executive officer for St. Luke’s Hospital. “Collaboration with other local agencies to increase awareness and improve decisions will positively affect the health and wellness of Polk County residents through shared resources.”

A community forum to review key data and discuss health priorities is planned for mid-January. It will be open to the public.

Reports and other details are available on the WNC Healthy Impact website!polk/c9wl.

Marjorie Vestal is a Public Health Consultant with Rutherford Polk McDowell Health District. She has worked closely with Polk Fit, Fresh and Friendly for several years. For more information on Polk County, contact her at