Ben Chandler: Study Provides Snapshot of Health Challenges and Advances | Opinion


As we move into another year, the discussion of New Year’s resolutions and the noble pursuit of doing certain things differently and better comes to the fore. More than half of all of these resolutions relate to health – including losing weight, eating better, and getting regular physical activity.

Each of us will individually decide what, if anything, we would like to improve in 2022. And perhaps collectively, as a community, we should consider areas for “self-improvement”. A review of the recently released 2021 U.S. health rankings might be a good place to start. The rankings, published by the United Health Foundation, provide an overview of Kentucky’s overall health compared to other states. It does not just “rank” states against each other; it assesses each state across a set of health, environmental and socio-economic categories to help shed light on our health challenges and successes.

Rankings are created to help states set benchmarks for health and set goals for the future.

This year’s report reinforces the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky’s priorities for how we can collectively create a healthier Commonwealth in 2022 and beyond. The Foundation’s priorities are the fight against obesity and the reduction of diabetes by improving nutrition and physical exercise.

Indeed, the report validates these priorities. This indicates that 36.6% of adults in Kentucky are obese (up from 31.9% nationally), a higher percentage than all but five of the states. Kentucky ranks 50th in two other categories of concern: the amount of vegetables and fruit consumed, as well as physical activity and exercise. I hope that individual Kentuckians, their communities, their local and state government representatives, and healthcare advocates – among others – can have an open and candid dialogue about increasing physical activity opportunities and better access. to healthy foods. For Kentucky school children, stricter nutritional standards, increased participation in school nutrition programs, and quality physical education are needed.

As an organization whose mission is to meet the unmet health needs of Kentuckians by shaping and influencing policy, improving access to care, reducing health disparities and promoting equity in health, we see these rankings as a call to action for leaders in government, health care, education and social services… as well as individual Kentuckians.

Although the United Health Foundation ranks Kentucky 49th in percentage of Kentucky adults who smoke tobacco products, there is good news: Adult smoking has declined 26% in recent years, rising from 29% in 2011 to 21.4% in 2021.

While this is a positive trend, there is still a lot of work to be done. Every Kentuckian who smokes should seriously consider quitting as a 2022 resolution. Smoking prevention and cessation programs are available, although additional funding is badly needed.

It is encouraging to see that we are ranked 14th for the percentage of residents (93.6%) covered by private or public health insurance. But the barriers to accessing health care remain. Consider Kentucky to be ranked 42nd for the percentage of households without a reliable internet. Kentuckians need this access to access telehealth services. Although telehealth was less common before the pandemic, it is here to stay and a necessity for residents with limited access to transportation or who live an hour or more from the nearest health care provider.

Another noteworthy part of the report: Kentucky ranks 45th for non-medical drug use among adults and 42nd for drug-related deaths. Kentucky’s drug addiction epidemic is heading in a dangerous direction. There is a need for crisis-level funding and support for expanded prevention, treatment and mitigation services.

While some may find the rankings intimidating, it’s important that we see them as benchmarks for the health of Kentuckians. Now is the time to challenge each other – to push for new and better ways to make our entire Commonwealth healthier.

BEN CHANDLER is President and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.


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