Kentucky Ranks 47th Overall; Officials Focus on Key Issues



Kentucky ranks last in several health measures this year, national statistics show, but some of the most troubling areas fall in line with efforts already in place.

The state has the highest rates of children in poverty, preventable hospitalizations, poor mental health days and cancer deaths. Poor mental health days refers to “the number of days in the past 30 adults reported their mental health was not good,” according to the United Health Foundation. Overall, Kentucky fell two places this year to 47th, the foundation said.

The report said 31.4 percent of children in Kentucky live in poverty. Though not a health statistic on its own, childhood poverty is linked to higher rates of chronic disease and shorter life expectancy, the foundation said.

It looks bad, said Todd Hazel, Warren County Public Schools student assistance coordinator.

“As I sit here and look at all of the services that are provided in this county alone and through the school systems as well, I’m amazed at what’s being provided. I’m really surprised that we’re high on the list,” Hazel said.

Fifty-five percent of students in the county district receive free and reduced lunches, Hazel said.

The report is filled with things health workers in Bowling Green already know, according to Crissy Rowland, spokeswoman for the Barren River District Health Department.

The health department aligns its efforts with the problems reflected in statistics, she said. The department prioritized obesity, diabetes, heart disease, lung cancer and drug use after completing a community health assessment.

The same is true of the state.

Gov. Steve Beshear launched an initiative in February called Kyhealthnow, which set goals to reduce rates of smoking, obesity, cancer deaths, cardiovascular deaths and drug deaths, among others.

Ranking the states can offer insight into practices that improve health. For instance, Rowland said, states with lower rates of smoking have higher tax rates on tobacco products and more extensive smoke-free laws.

Kentucky has the second-highest rate of adult smokers in the U.S. behind West Virginia. The smoking rate for the state fell to 26.5 percent in 2014 – down 9 percent since 2012.

Seeing change in community health can take years.

“It’s really hard to show a change in overall health status, whether it’s improved or worsened,” Rowland said. “It does take time for that to measure out. We know that we’re making great strides in addressing obesity, but it will be years before we see results.

“There’s no instant gratification.”

The report noted:

In a few bright spots, Kentucky has a low rate of binge drinking, a low rate of violent crime and high immunization coverage among children.

The number of drug deaths increased 30 percent over two years, with 24 deaths per 100,000 people. The state ranks 48th in the category.

Obesity rates for Kentuckians increased as income decreased. Overall, 33 percent of residents were obese. For those making less than $25,000 a year, the rate was 41 percent.

The rate of adults diagnosed with diabetes fell from 10.8 percent in 2012 to 10.6 percent this year.

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