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Lee County jumped 15 spots — from 70th to 55th — in an annual study released Wednesday ranking people’s overall health in North Carolina’s 100 counties. Despite the jump to the middle of the pack, Lee still ranks below is neighbors, with Wake (No. 1) and Chatham (No. 9) cracking the Top 10.

The annual study comes from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Population Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin. Now in its eighth year, the County Health Rankings factor in the rate of premature deaths, quality of life, health behaviors, availability of medical care, the physical environment and social and economic factors.

Download County Health Rankings & Roadmap PDF

The big takeaway from the study nationally is that more Americans are dying prematurely — notably younger generations. Drug overdose and other injury deaths have heavily influenced the rise in premature deaths, which are defined as loss of life prior to the age of 75.

In Lee County, however, jumped from 71st in the state to 55th in premature deaths and continues to improve in that area since peaking in 2005. Last year, 219 people in Lee County died of “malignant neoplasms” (cancer), 140 of heart diseases and 71 from accidents or drug overdoses.

Lee County’s 2017 rankings

Click here for full Lee County report

Health Behaviors: Lee County also ranks at or below the state average in adult smoking, adult obesity, excessive drinking, food environment, alcohol-impaired driving deaths and sexually transmitted diseases. It ranked well above the state average for teen births, and well below for “access to exercise opportunities.”

Clinical Care: Lee County’s poorest showing came in this category, with 17 percent of its population uninsured (compared to 15 percent statewide) and the ratio of primary care physicians, dentists and mental health providers to the general population. The only category where the county ranked better than the state average was in diabetes monitoring. Overall, Lee County ranks 69th in North Carolina for clinical care.

Social & Economic Factors: Lee County ranked 49th overall in this category, besting the state average in high school graduation (89 percent), income inequality and violent crime. In fact, Lee County’s violent crime rate was nearly half that of the state’s (a huge drop since 2004). It fared worse than most counties in the percentage of people with some college education, unemployment rate, the rate of children in poverty and injury deaths.

Physical environment: Lee County’s best showing came in this category, which factors in air pollution, drinking water violations, housing problems, the percentage of people who commute long distances and the percent of people who don’t carpool. Overall, the county ranked 34th.

Our Neighbors & Trends: Harnett County has ranked 49th in the state the past two years — its best ranking was 44th in 2015 and 2012 and its worst ranking was 53rd in 2013. Lee County actually ranked as high as 38th in 2012, but progressively got worse in the years that followed, until this year’s big jump. Neither have performed as well as neighboring Chatham and Moore counties. Chatham, which ranked 21st in 2012, has ranked in the Top 10 in each of the last three years. This year, it came in at ninth. Moore County ranked 19th in the state, thanks in large part to its access to clinical care, which ranked seventh overall. Moore County’s problem continues to be its physical environment (ranked 75th), because of recent drinking water violations, air pollution and the percentage of people who commute long distances without carpooling.

Best and the Worst: Wake County ranked first in the state in total health, ranking in the Top 3 in every category except physical environment. The least healthiest county continues to be Robeson County, home of Lumberton, which terrible rankings in almost every health category, rising unemployment, high crime rate and several environmental issues.


Lee County
  • 2017: 55
  • 2016: 70
  • 2015: 68
  • 2014: 51
  • 2013: 51
  • 2012: 38
Harnett County
  • 2017: 49
  • 2016: 49
  • 2015: 44
  • 2014: 50
  • 2013: 53
  • 2012: 44
Chatham County
  • 2017: 9
  • 2016: 8
  • 2015: 9
  • 2014: 11
  • 2013: 15
  • 2012: 21
Moore County
  • 2017: 19
  • 2016: 23
  • 2015: 16
  • 2014: 13
  • 2013: 11
  • 2012: 12