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By the Journal Editorial Board

Winston-Salem Journal

Here in Forsyth County we enjoy a variety of health advantages over many other parts of the state – and, indeed, over many parts of the world. But the average life span of a Forsyth County resident is lower than that in other urban counties in the state, the Journal’s Richard Craver reported recently, and the cause seems to be issues related to poverty that have an influence from infancy. That requires our attention.

The average baby born today in Forsyth County is projected to live to be 78.1 years old, according to a report by the advocacy group NC Child. In Guilford County, the average life expectancy is 79.1 years; Durham County, 79.9 years; Mecklenburg County, 80.4 years; and Wake County, 81.4 years. The difference may not seem like much, but it’s statistically significant. And it’s influenced by the social, economic and health factors we experience from early childhood.

The report presents this data about Forsyth County:

— One in 18 births is to a mother who received very late or no prenatal care, and is likely to be uninsured at the time of conception;

— One in three children lives in poverty;

— One in 14 children does not have insurance coverage;

— An estimated 20,980 children are considered to be food insecure, living in households that struggle to provide enough healthy, nutritious food for all members of the family;

— One in nine babies is born at a low birth weight, putting children at greater risk for developmental delays or future health complications, including infant mortality.

“These health challenges are avoidable,” Laila Bell, NC Child’s director of research and data, told the Journal. “We know that smart public-policy decisions can help enhance local efforts to ensure all children in Forsyth live in homes and communities that promote their health and development.”

But the problem is getting worse. According to another study conducted by the Population Health Institute of the University of Wisconsin, the gap between the quality of health in Forsyth County and our urban peers has been growing wider. In its first study, in 2010, Forsyth ranked 20 among N.C.’s 100 counties. In 2015, we rank 29.

Of course, we don’t have to just accept our lot. NC Child offers recommendations for improvement:

One is better access to health insurance for women of reproductive age. Another is support for infant mortality prevention strategies, such as the Healthy Babies Bundle recommended by the Child Fatality Task Force. A third is investing in early intervention services to reduce the effects of developmental delays.

We know such efforts can help. We’ve watched the passionate group fighting infant mortality in Forsyth County put a dent in that terrible problem, as stubborn as it remains.

These studies are useful in determining solutions. But nothing will happen until more of us join the fight for better outcomes in our communities – and demand that our leaders do as well.

Source: Health Outcomes: County’s Life Expectancy Needs Improvement.

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