Report: Accomack, Northampton in Bottom Quarter of State Health Ratings

A sign encourages walking in the town of Onancock on Thursday, April 29, 2021. Photo by Carol Vaughn.

(Part 1 of 2)

By Carol Vaughn —

Accomack County in a recent report was ranked 95 of 133 Virginia counties for overall health outcomes, which include measures of length and quality of life, and 115 for overall health factors, which include measures of health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment.
Life expectancy is 76.8 years in Accomack and 76.4 years in Northampton, compared to 79.5 years in Virginia as a whole.
Broken down by race, the life expectancy for White Northampton residents is 77.6 years; for Black residents it is 72.6 years.
The life expectancy for Black Accomack residents is 74 years, compared to 77.8 years for White residents.
Northampton County was ranked 101 for overall health outcomes and 107 for health factors.
The rankings place Northampton in the bottom 25% of Virginia counties for both health outcomes and health factors.
Accomack is in the lower middle range of counties, between 25% and 50%, for health outcomes and in the bottom 25% for health factors.
The rankings represent a mixture of progress and decline locally since 2019, when the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps ranked Accomack at 101 for health outcomes and 113 for health factors, and ranked Northampton at 95 for health outcomes and 115 for health factors.
Arlington is the healthiest county in the state, according to a press release from the Virginia Department of Health.
“We at the Virginia Department of Health are extremely proud that Arlington and the rest of the Northern Virginia region enjoy such good health, as recognized by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver.
“We know many factors affect public health, and the Commonwealth has made great strides in recent years, but we also know there are healthcare gaps that Virginia and its leaders must address going forward as we navigate our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will not let up in our efforts to create healthy communities and improve healthy outcomes for all people in Virginia,” he said.
The five communities with the poorest health, starting with least healthy, are Petersburg, Galax, Covington, Martinsville, and Hopewell.
The annual rankings, which use more than 30 measures to give a snapshot of a community’s health, provide a starting point for community discussions about ways to improve.
The report is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. It can be viewed at
The 2021 report does not yet reflect the impact COVID-19 had on counties because the data used is from 2019 and earlier. The pandemic’s impacts will begin to emerge in the 2022 report.
The 2021 report includes two new measures — broadband access and high school completion.
According to the report, using data from 2015-2019, 68% of Accomack residents and 72% of Northampton residents have broadband access.
Accomack reported 81% high school completion and Northampton reported 83% — the measure is the percentage of adults age 25 and over with a high school diploma or equivalent.
Areas Where Shore Counties Are Improving
Alcohol-Impaired Driving Deaths
Accomack showed an improving trend in alcohol-impaired driving deaths, with 0% of driving deaths with alcohol involvement reported in 2019, compared to 50% in 2018 and 33% in 2017.
Northampton also showed 0% of driving deaths with alcohol involvement for 2019, but no significant trend over the past decade.
Uninsured Residents
Both counties show an improving trend for the number of residents without health insurance.
In 2018, 15% in Northampton and 17% in Accomack were uninsured, according to the report.
Those are down from 2013, when Northampton and Accomack both had 21% of residents uninsured.
Still, the figures remain higher than for Virginia and the United States, which both had 10% uninsured.
Positive trends also were reported in both counties for the number of dentists, preventable hospital stays, and air pollution.
Areas Where Shore Counties Are Getting Worse
The report shows a worsening trend in adult obesity in both Accomack and Northampton counties — 37% of adults in Accomack and 42% in Northampton are obese.
The figures are based on 2017; the uptick comes after rates stayed fairly steady, in the low- to mid-30 percents, over the previous several years.
Both Shore counties’ obesity rates are higher than Virginia’s, 31%, and the United States’ rate of 30%.
Still, the Shores’ obesity rate no longer is the worst in the state, as it was in 2009.
Among the most obese counties in the 2021 report were King and Queen County, with an obesity rate of 49%; Isle of Wight and Madison counties, both 45%; and Dinwiddie and Lunenburg counties, both 46%, among other counties with higher obesity rates than the Shore.
Children in Poverty
Both counties showed a worsening trend for the percent of children living in poverty.
In 2019, 30% of Northampton children and 29% of Accomack children lived in poverty, compared to 29% for Northampton and 28% for Accomack in 2017.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Both counties showed a worsening trend for sexually transmitted infections.
In 2018, 777 STIs were reported in Northampton and 734 were reported in Accomack.
The number in Accomack was up from 648 in 2017. In 2007, only 432 STIs were reported in the county.
In Northampton, the number was down from 2017, when 878 STIs were reported, but the trend over the past decade has been worsening — for example, in 2007, only 389 were reported in the county.
Physical Inactivity
A worsening trend for physical inactivity was noted for Accomack but not for Northampton.
In 2017, 33% of Accomack residents were reported to be physically inactive, a slight decline from 36% the previous year; still, there is an upward trend in inactivity over the last decade.
In 2017, 26% of residents were physically inactive.

Next week’s Post will look at some of the causes for the health outcomes and trends mentioned in this week’s article and what area agencies and nonprofits are doing to give Shore residents opportunities to achieve optimal health.

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