Whitesburg KY

All but one of Kentucky’s 10 unhealthiest counties are in state’s eastern half

All but one of Kentucky’s 10 unhealthiest counties are in the Appalachian hills, where smoking, obesity and poverty are most common, according to a study released Monday.

The study, titled “Health of Kentucky,” says most of the health problems in the state are due to poor lifestyle choices, such as tobacco use, unhealthy diets and not enough exercise. The study also said a lack of physicians and health insurance contribute to the poor health of Kentuckians – especially those in eastern Kentucky, the poorest region in the state.

Eastern Kentucky’s Wolfe County was ranked as the least healthy county in the study, which was prepared by the Medical Institute of Kentucky, a Lexington based medical think tank.

Wolfe County showed high rates of lung cancer, premature deaths and deaths related to cardiovascular diseases. The county also has a low high school graduation rate and a low per capita income of $17,241, both of which contribute to a lack of health insurance.

“People here don’t have the insurance,” said Paula Dean, county coordinator for the Wolfe County health department. “Jobs are real difficult to come by here.”

Wolfe County’s unemployment rate is the third-highest in the state at 10.3 percent.

The findings were similar to those of other eastern Kentucky counties, including neighboring Lee and Powell counties.

“It’s all the usual suspects … we have always been noted for smoking and obesity,” said Dr. Raymond Wells, a physician in Inez who co-chairs the Kentucky Institute of Medicine.

Wells, an eastern Kentucky native, blamed part of the problem, especially unhealthy cooking and eating, on culture.

“It’s not that we can’t afford healthy food. It’s ingrained in us that eating is a big part of our social lives,” Well said, adding that changing unhealthy habits in the region would require a “mind-set change.”

The healthiest counties are mostly centered in the suburbs of Louisville and Lexington.

Oldham County, north of Jefferson County and the healthiest on the list, reported low rates of obesity, diabetes and overall mortality. Its strengths lie in affluence and education: its high school graduation rate and per capita income surpass state and national averages, with only eight percent of its under 65 population uninsured.

According to the report, Kentucky is “a healthy place to live and work.” But Kentucky fares worse than the rest of the nation in terms of smoking, obesity, exercise and oral health:

– 29 percent of Kentucky adults smoke compared to 21 percent nationwide

– 29 percent of Kentucky adults are obese, compared to 24 percent nationwide

– 32 percent of Kentucky adults don’t get enough exercise, compared to 24 percent nationwide

– 37 percent of Kentucky adults are missing six or more teeth, compared to 33 percent nationwide.

“Like politics, all heath care is local,” said Dr. Emery Wilson, director of the Office of Health and Development at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. “If we really want to improve the health of Kentuckians, we must start at the local or county level.”

On the Net:

“Health of Kentucky” report at: www.kyiom.org/ healthy2007a.pdf 10 worst

and best

Kentucky’s 10 unhealthiest counties, with No. 1 as the best:

1. Owsley 2. Powell 3. Hart 4. Knott 5. Lee 6. McCreary 7. Perry 8. Harlan 9. Clay

10. Wolfe

Kentucky’s 10 healthiest counties, with No. 1 as the best:

1. Oldham 2. Boone 3. Jessamine 4. Anderson 5. Woodford 6. Fayette 7. Spencer 8. Daviess

9. Calloway 10. Clark – Source: Kentucky Institute of Medicine

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