From STDs to DUIs: Ranking the health of South Carolina counties

Good news and bad


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  • flickr user Presidencia de la República Mexicana
Charleston County ranks fifth in overall health among counties in South Carolina, according to the most recent nationwide study from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. But let’s take a closer look at just how these numbers were determined.

According to the most recent survey, which evaluated data from 2014 on a broad spectrum of health factors, Beaufort and Dorchester counties are the healthiest communities in South Carolina, while Dillon and Marion counties hold the bottom spots.

First things first: Here’s the good news for Charleston.

Charleston County ranks first in the state for overall quality of clinical care, leading the state in the number of residents per primary care physicians with a ratio of 790 to 1. By comparison, Williamsburg County ranked last in this metric, having only one primary care physician per every 10,898 residents. Charleston also ranked first in number of dentists and mental health providers per resident. Keep that last ranking in mind when considering that Charleston is in the top five for fewest number of poor mental health days reported. The area of clinical care where Charleston was found to be lacking was total number of uninsured residents, falling to 10th place among South Carolina counties.

Live Long and Prosper

One of the largest factors in the overall health ranking among counties was the measure of premature deaths. To determine these rankings, researchers calculated the years of potential life lost per 100,000 residents, using 75 years of age as the benchmark for a relatively long life. One example provided shows that a person who dies at 20 would contribute 55 years to this total, while a 70-year-old’s death would only add five years. Per this ranking, Charleston County had the third fewest number of years of potential life lost — falling behind Beaufort and Dorchester counties.

Now let’s take a look at how the everyday behaviors of Charleston residents affect the community’s overall health.

No. 1 Problem Drinker

Not surprisingly to those who have ventured down King Street on a weekend night, Charleston has the highest percentage of excessive drinking. More than one-fifth of Charleston residents are reported to have consumed more than four (for women) or five (for men) alcoholic beverages on a single occasion in the past 30 days or drank more than one (women) or two (men) drinks per day on average. Fortunately, Charleston has seen a reduction in the percentage of alcohol-impaired driving deaths over recent years, according to the study, but more than 40 percent of fatal accidents in the county were still proven to involve someone who had been drinking.

About 17 percent of adults in the county were reported to be smokers in 2015. This percentage was above the national average of 14 percent, but below the state average of 20 percent. Charleston County ranks near the national average in adult obesity. One-quarter of county adults were reported to be obese. Six percent of Charleston County residents reported limited access to healthy foods, and 16 percent were found to suffer from food insecurity. Statewide, nearly one-third of adults in South Carolina are obese.

STD Wrap-up

On the topic of sexually transmitted disease, Dillon County holds rank for the highest chlamydia rate in South Carolina, with more than one case per every 100 residents. Charleston County fared better, but still ranked 11th in the state in terms of rates of chlamydia. To provide a bit of perspective on this number, 2,889 new cases of chlamydia were reported in Charleston County in 2014 — almost 200 more cases per 100,000 residents than the state average and more than 300 cases above the national average.


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