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Letcher ‘healthier’ than most other counties in region

Letcher County is the second most-healthy county in southeastern Kentucky, but still ranks behind 100 other Kentucky counties.

A new report of the national county health rankings shows Letcher and several other Kentucky counties have improved in the last two years while others have gotten significantly worse.

For the second year in a row, Oldham County ranked best in health outcomes, and Floyd County ranked worst, but the statistical differences among closely ranked counties are so small that they are subject to error margins. The rankings recognize that by placing the counties into quartiles, or fourths, of the state’s 120 counties.

The results were released in the fourth annual County Health Rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and are available at www.countyhealthrankings.org. Detailed, county-by-county health data are available at KentuckyHealthFacts.org.

Letcher County jumped from 113th in 2012 to 101st in 2013. Only Knox County (98th) ranks higher among southeastern Kentucky counties. Knott County now ranks 103rd; Harlan County 110th, Pike County 115th and Perry County 119th.

Morgan County jumped two quartiles over the past year, improving its rank by 40 notches, from 69th to 29th. Another strongly positive change from last year was Mercer’s County’s improvement from 61st to 40th.

On the other hand, other county rankings worsened: McLean went down two quartiles and 36 steps, from 57th to 93rd. Bourbon went from 42nd to 68th, Gallatin went from 71st to 94th and Hickman County 31st to 61st.

These eastern Kentucky counties have been listed in the bottom quartile (91st to 120th) for the past three years: Lawrence, Johnson, Martin Powell, Wolfe, Magoffin, Floyd, Pike, Breathitt, Knott, Jackson, Owsley, Perry, Letcher, Clay, Leslie, Knox, Bell and Whitley.

The rankings are based on a model of population health that emphasizes the many factors that, if improved, can help make Kentucky communities healthier places to live: health behaviors, such as diet, exercise and alcohol use; clinical care, including access to care and quality of care; social and economic factors, such as education, employment and income; and the environmental quality of the physical environment.

Other factors considered in the rankings include the rate of people dying before age 75, high-school graduation rates, unemployment, access to healthy foods, air and water quality, income, and rates of smoking, obesity and teenage pregnancy.

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