Local officials question area's low ranking in health survey

Lenoir-Hickory-Morganton ranks 185 out of 189 regions
Apr. 01, 2014 @ 08:22 AM

The metropolitan statistical area that includes Lenoir rates among the worst places in the country in terms of the overall well-being of its citizens, according to an annual report issued Friday.

The Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton area ranked 185th out of 189 areas in the 2013 Gallup-Healthways State of America Well-Being Report. The report is based on a survey of 531,630 people nationwide about their quality of life, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors and basic access to health facilities.

Civic leaders from Lenoir, Hickory and Morganton issued a statement displaying their skepticism of the study, citing in part the small number of survey participants in the region – 656 people out of a population of more than 300,000.

Gallup says its margin of error for even the smallest areas included in the survey is only plus or minus 1.5 percent.

The local officials' statement also said: "The rankings of ... other communities also raise questions about the usefulness of the survey in comparing communities. For example, Greensboro-High Point (118), Wilmington (126), and Asheville (140) were all ranked towards the bottom of the survey."

And the statement noted that the difference between the highest and lowest scores wasn't much: The Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton area’s overall score of 62.2 was only 9.2 points behind the top ranking, 71.4 for Provo-Orem, Utah.

The City of Lenoir pointed to current city efforts and facilities like the greenway, the Lenoir Aquatic and Fitness Center, farmer’s markets, a partnership with Caldwell Memorial Hospital to get citizens eating healthier and organizations like free medical clinic Helping Hands.

“I’m not sure I agree with all the information that was there,” Lenoir Mayor Joe Gibbons said of the survey. “But I think our community is doing so many great things.”

This was not the first time the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton area had a poor showing in the Gallup-Healthways report. It was at least the third consecutive time that the area ranked in the bottom six, each time with a similar score -- 62.3, 62.7 and 62.2 -- and it is one of only three metropolitan areas to appear in each of those three bottom-10 rankings. The other two are the Huntington, W.Va./Ashland, Ky., area, which has ranked as worst in two of the past three years, and Charleston, W.Va., which ranked as worst in 2012 and was second-worst for 2013.

The Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton had its worst showing in two areas: 30.1 percent of those surveyed said they smoke, the fourth-highest percentage in the survey -- the highest was Charleston, W.Va., at 34.3 percent -- and 48.1 percent said they exercise frequently, tied for the 12th-lowest percentage. Lafayette, La., had the lowest percentage for frequent exercise, 43.4.

The Raleigh-Cary area performed the best among the state's metropolitan areas, with an overall score of 69.4, ranking 19th overall and sixth among large communities.

As a state, North Carolina ranked 32nd.

Gibbons said he doesn’t foresee any long-term issues for the city because of the low ranking, saying, “We do too many good things in this community to let something like this bother us or get us down.”