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2014 Life in Hampton Roads Survey Part 3: Declining Health and Diminishing Education?

Hampton Roads is made up of seven independent cities full of people whose health and education are vital to ensuring the community thrives.

Old Dominion University's 2014 Life in Hampton Roads survey highlights important regional and sub-regional challenges in health and education in part 3 of its report: "Declining Health and Diminishing Education?"

The full survey, which is being released in parts throughout this week, is designed to peer into social and economic indicators of quality of life in Hampton Roads, with particular focus placed on transportation and traffic, local and state government, education, health, emergency preparedness, the economy and crime.

LIHR survey reports include:

In regards to health and education-related questions, 2014 survey respondents generally gave those areas good ratings. However, positive perceptions of both personal health and public education were at their lowest levels in the five years of the survey, according to the data.

Health

Overall, 81.9 percent of Hampton Roads residents indicated their general health was good (50.2 percent) to excellent (31.7 percent). Although still high, this is the lowest percentage of good to excellent health ratings recorded since the Life in Hampton Roads survey began in 2010.

"Education and health are still a regional strength, but this decline is cause for concern," said Jesse Richman, director of the Social Science Research Center at Old Dominion University that conducted the survey.

Richman also noted that "survey respondents appreciate the high quality of health care available at regional hospitals, but some voiced concerns about health habits and the environment."

The three largest health challenges Hampton Roads residents listed included: obesity, diabetes and cancer.

Another health challenge explored in the survey was tick exposure. In the last 12 months, 10.2 percent of respondents, 8.9 percent of other household members, and 7.7 percent of household pets were bitten by ticks. People and pets residing in Norfolk households (9.8 percent) were the least affected by tick bites followed by Portsmouth (14 percent) and then Virginia Beach (19.4 percent). Chesapeake (22.8 percent) and Hampton households (22 percent) encountered ticks to a fairly substantial degree, while Newport News (30.6 percent) and Suffolk (32 percent) faced the highest rates of tick encounters. According to the survey, 3.6 percent of respondents suffered from a tick borne disease, with nearly one-fifth of the total cases having occurred in the past year.

Holly Gaff, associate professor of biology at ODU, said this reflects a "stunning degree of under-reporting in state and national health estimates." The Center for Disease Control put out a press release last year which suggested Lyme disease is under-reported and Life in Hampton Roads survey results support that idea.

Education

Favorable perceptions of local schools are also declining. The 2014 survey had the smallest percentage of good (40.7 percent) and excellent (19.2 percent) ratings when compared to data collected since 2010. This suggests residents have concerns about the quality of Hampton Roads' public schools. Compared to 2013 results, there was a 4.7 percent decrease in good and excellent ratings in 2014.

But quality perceptions also varied widely by city. Virginia Beach (75.3 percent), Chesapeake (66.9 percent), and Newport News (57.5 percent) residents were more likely to view their local public schools as good or excellent, especially compared to the percent of good to excellent ratings Portsmouth (40.3 percent), Norfolk (45.1 percent), and Hampton (48.8 percent) received.

Do local schools prepare students for success in careers or college? Responses varied substantially across cities. At the upper end, Virginia Beach schools received the highest ratings with (75.4 percent respondents who agreed or strongly agreed) followed by Chesapeake (67.7 percent) and Suffolk (67.3 percent). Once again, Newport News (56.1 percent), Norfolk (51.3 percent), Hampton (50.6 percent) and Portsmouth (47.4 percent) received lower ratings.

Gaming

On a lighter note, the survey also asked residents about their video/computer/phone usage for games. Just over a quarter (25.8 percent) of respondents said they play games between one and three hours per week while 11.4 percent of adults in Hampton Roads reported playing video games more than 10 hours per week. Richman said SSRC staff wondered how game-play related to health, and found an interesting result.

Among participants who were 49-years-old and younger, there was a 10.8 percent (statistically significant) drop among heavy gamers, who play seven hours or more each week, in the portion rating their health excellent or good. Among respondents aged 50 or older, there was a 3.3 percent increase the portion rating their health good or excellent among heavy game players.

"Perhaps a little more game play by grandma (and a little less by the grandkids) would send both the health and education indicators back in the right direction," a bemused Richman speculated.

All Life in Hampton Roads Data Analyses will be posted on the Social Science Research Center website as they are released (www.odu.edu/ssrc).

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