Study: Sampson’s health improves in 2014

By Chris Berendt Staff Writer

March 28, 2014

Sampson County’s overall health improved in 2014, with key strides made in health factors that include the populous’ behaviors and access to clinical care, according to a national study released this week.

As part of the annual County Health Rankings study, nearly every county in all 50 states is scrutinized as to numerous criteria that affect the health and impact the life-spans of people in certain communities. Each county received a summary rank for each of two general categories — health outcomes and health factors — as well as rankings in a subset of each, two under health outcomes and four within health factors.

For 2014, Sampson declined ever so slighty to 81st in health outcomes (down from 80th in 2013) and made a marked improvement to 63rd (up from 71st in 2013) in health factors, a good sign after last year’s numbers showed the county had taken a step back in the rankings — the first time it has slipped in both categories since the study’s inception — after years of gradual progress.

In 2012, Sampson County was 74th in the state in health outcomes and 69th in health factors, but dropped six and two spots, respectively, in 2013. While health outcomes rank has fluctuated, dropping from 67 in 2010 to 71 in 2011, going back up in 2012 and then back down in 2013 and again in 2014, the health factors had steadily improved every year until 2013, from 82 in 2010 to 80 in 2011 and way up to 69 in 2012.

After a dip to 71st last year, the ranking of 63rd in health factors in 2014 is the highest the county has seen in either of the main categories.

Sampson County health director Wanda Robinson has said the annual study offers a “snapshot” of how healthy Sampson is and how it stacks up with other counties. She regularly cites the rankings, launched in 2010, with offering a good county-to-county report card on health and where Sampson stands, something that has traditionally been tough to gauge.

Published by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the rankings are based on the latest data publicly available for each county.

Inside the numbers

In the rankings, “health outcomes” represent how healthy a county is, measuring how long people live (mortality) and how healthy people feel while alive (morbidity), with mortality measured by premature death and morbidity measured by illness rates and low birth weight. “Health factors” represent what influences the health of a county, including four separate criteria: health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment factors.

Under health outcomes, Sampson ranked 46th in morbidity and 90th in mortality.

The morbidity ranking has continually improved in Sampson, from 54th in 2011 to 47th in 2012 and 41st in 2013. However, that took a dip in 2014’s rankings, with Sampson at 46th. The slip in the morbidity ranking was the key factor in the overall health outcome ranking dip to 81st. The mortality ranking has dropped over the years, from 73rd in 2011 to 83rd in 2012 and again to 90th in 2013, but stayed firmly at 90th in 2014.

According to the 2014 health rankings, the mortality rate in Sampson County is much higher than the state and national averages. That rate, measuring years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 population, shows Sampson at 10,349, ranking 90th in North Carolina. That compares to 7,480 for the state average and a 5,317 national benchmark (90th percentile, only 10 percent being better).

Among notable criteria in morbidity, approximately 26 percent of the county’s population was listed as having poor or fair health, compared to an 18 percent state average and 10 percent national benchmark. A low birth weight percentage of 9.3 percent also trended slightly above the state average of 9.1 percent but well above the 6 percent national mark. Those numbers remain largely unchanged.

The weights for health outcomes are split 50-50 between mortality and morbidity in coming to the overall rank. Conversely, there are four categories in health factors, which are weighted differently — health behaviors at 30 percent, clinical care at 20 percent, social and economic factors at 40 percent and physical environment at 10 percent.

Health behaviors encompass alcohol use, diet and exercise, sexual activity and tobacco use; clinical care includes access to, and quality of, care; social and economic factors include community safety, education, employment, family and social support and income; and physical environment takes into account infrastructure, facilities and environmental quality.

Under health factors in 2014, Sampson ranks 44th in health behaviors (was 66th in 2013), 84th in clinical care (89th in 2013), 67th in social and economic factors (down from 65th in 2013) and 26th in physical environment (36th in 2013).

While all the 2013 rankings represented declines from 2012 after going up for two years straight, the recent rankings reveal three of the four categories were improved in 2014 as Sampson righted the ship.

Among health factors, health behavior categories of adult obesity, physical inactivity and teen birth rate all trended above state averages in 2014, with adult obesity in Sampson at 37 percent compared to the state’s 29 percent average, according to the study. On the flip side, adult smoking, at 17 percent in Sampson, was lower than the state’s 20 percent average, as was excessive drinking, at 11 percent in Sampson compared to 13 percent throughout North Carolina.

Under social and economic factors, Sampson had a higher number of children in poverty and children in single-parent households as compared to the state average. Violent crime trended lower than the state, as did unemployment.

To read more about the study or see a county-by-county breakdown, visit County Health Rankings & Roadmaps site, at

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at