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Women's Health Report: NC Gets 'D' Grade

North Carolina has a lot of work to do when it comes to addressing women’s health and wellness.  That's the finding of a state commissioned report released in Asheville this week at Mountain Area Health Education Center. BPR’s Helen Chickering has details.

The 2019 Status of Women in North Carolina: Health and Wellness report conducted by the Washington think tank Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows overall North Carolina has made some progress in lowering death rates from heart disease and cancer but that the state still ranks among the highest in the country in a number of areas, including stroke and infant mortality rates, says Institute study director Elyse Shaw.

“So you (North Carolina) are kind of still ranked toward the bottom nationally when you look at different indicators,” says Shaw, “and you still receive a D overall.”

The report shows white women fare better than minorities and for the most part women in urban counties have better health outcomes than their rural counterparts.  A closer look at Western North Carolina revealed a mixed bag.  One example: Transylvania and Jackson counties had some of the lowest heart disease death rates in the state and Cherokee and Swain were among the highest. 

“You can’t argue when the numbers are looking at you,” says Rebecca Planchard, a health policy advisor for the state.  Planchard says while the findings may be a tough pill to swallow they can also help energize lawmakers to take action.

“We see data that shares disparities front and center that pushes us, policy makers, it pushes our legislators to action when we see a report like this come out.”

Among the policy recommendations in the report: closing the insurance coverage gap and increasing medical investments in rural areas.   

Researchers compiled data from the state department of health, the Centers for Disease control and organizations like the American Cancer Society. 

Key findings from the 2019 Status of Women report include:

  • North Carolina ranks 11th highest in infant mortality and 9th highest in stroke mortality among women – and the problem is even worse in rural counties and for women of color.
  • North Carolina’s mortality rates for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and breast cancer, among other diseases, have decreased since the 2013 report.
  • In North Carolina, more than one-third of women (35 percent) have experienced at least one type of intimate partner violence (IPV) and more than 35 percent of North Carolina women report having experienced some form of aggression or control by an intimate partner.
  • Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, North Carolina ranks in the middle or bottom on indicators of health and wellness. North Carolina’s best ranking is for heart disease mortality (27th out of 51) and its worst is for AIDS diagnoses (44th).
  • There are wide disparities in North Carolina women’s disease mortality rates by race and ethnicity. The heart disease rate among Black women in North Carolina is more than three times higher than the rate of Hispanic women, the racial and ethnic group with the lowest rate. Black women also have a rate of breast cancer mortality that is more than three times higher than the rate for Hispanic women.

  Asheville is one of the first of many stops across the state to discuss the report and its findings. Event partner MAHEC serves North Carolina’s 16 westernmost counties through innovative health professions training and education, and patient-centered healthcare.
As follow up to today’s event, leaders from the Council and DOA will highlight report findings at UNC Wilmington’s College of Health & Human Services and the YWCA Lower Cape Fear on June 26, and also embark on regional visits this fall to share the report findings and hear local community input on the status of women.

The Status of Women in NC report on Earnings & Employment was released in 2018, and found that North Carolina has a 19 percent wage gap and ranks in the bottom third in the nation in women’s workforce participation. Governor Cooper subsequently issued Executive Order No. 93 banning salary history inquiries to address the gender wage gap among state workers. Governor Cooper also issued Executive Order No. 95 providing paid parental leave to Cabinet employees—a strategy found to help women remain and advance in the workforce.

Future reports over the next two years will focus on poverty and opportunity, and political participation. More information is available at ncadmin.nc.gov/statusofwomennc2019.

About the report partners:


Established in 1957, the Department of Administration acts as the business manager for North Carolina state government. Under the leadership of Secretary Machelle Sanders since appointed by Governor Roy Cooper in 2017, the department oversees Government Operations and advocacy programs. The department's advocacy programs provide advocacy, assistance and services to diverse segments of the state's population that have been traditionally underserved.


The North Carolina Council for Women and Youth Involvement (CFYI) is a division of the North Carolina Department of Administration. The mission of the Council is to advise the Governor, state legislators and state leaders on issues that impact women and youth.


The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that conducts and communicates research to inspire public dialogue, shape policy, and improve the lives and opportunities of women of diverse backgrounds, circumstances, and experiences. IWPR also works in collaboration with the Program on Gender Analysis in Economics at American University.


Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) is committed to improving health in Western North Carolina through innovative health professions training and education and compassionate healthcare. MAHEC was established in 1974 to improve training and retention of healthcare professionals across Western North Carolina (WNC). We are dedicated to excellence in clinical care, health professions education, and innovative practices that can be replicated nationally. Located in Asheville, MAHEC serves North Carolina’s 16 westernmost counties. We are the largest of the nine state AHECs that address national and state concerns with the supply, retention, and quality of health professionals especially in rural areas of the state.

MAHEC is also home to UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC, a vibrant academic health center that includes branch campuses of the UNC School of Medicine and UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, an inter-professional medical research department, and research faculty from the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.


Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.