Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Editorials

April 2, 2014

Dismal numbers

Latest report should inspire region to improve our health

ASHLAND — The good news is that the health ratings of all but two area counties improved in the latest ranking of the state’s 120 counties. However, before we pat ourselves on the back for those improvements, the overall health of residents of counties in northeast Kentucky remains rather dismal. Yes, we are improving but we still have a long, long way to go.

In fact, while the improvements are a positive sign, that’s about the only good news in the latest rankings.

Just as it was in the 2013 rankings, Greenup County was one of only two area counties to finish in the top half of the latest rankings of Kentucky’s 120 counties. But Greenup County’s ranking of 53 among 120 counties looks good only when compared to the health of other area counties. We don’t know of many athletes who would boast about finishing 53rd among 120 competitors. About the only thing Greenup County can brag about is being among the healthiest area counties.

Rowan County finished ahead of Greenup County in the latest rankings at No. 50, but that ranking marks a rather sharp decline in Rowan County’s 2013 ranking when it was 38th in the state.

Despite being the home of excellent health-care facilties, having an abundance of skilled health-care professionals and having a reasonably well-educated adult population, Boyd County ranked a dismal 80th in latest health rankings. In comparison, the health of Elliott County residents was better than those of Boyd Countians, even though Elliott has no hospital, has a shortage of health-care professionals and is one of the state’s poorest counties. Despite those negatives, Elliott County was ranked 66 among the 120 counties, or 14 counties ahead of much larger and more prosperous Boyd County. Go figure.

At least Greenup, Boyd, Carter, Lewis, and Boyd counties showed an improvement in the latest health rankings. Lawrence County joins Rowan County as one of only two area counties to see its ranking drop in the latest survey. Lawrence County dropped from  100 a year ago to 102 in the latest rankings.

The study, conducted yearly since 2009, considers several health and lifestyle factors of all counties in every U.S. state. Scores are then combined for an overall rating, which ranks counties from healthiest to least healthy. Oldham County, an urban and prosperous county near Louisville, remains the state’s healthiest county.

Chris Crum, director of the Greenup County Health Department, said, “With community support from organizations like the Boyd-Greenup Partnership for Environmental Concerns and the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities Coalition, Greenup County has definitely brought attention to our ability to affect a positive change.”

It doesn’t take a genius to identify two major reasons for this region’s health problems: Smoking and obesity.  Many of our health problems are self-inflicted. If more of us would lose weight and kick the deadly smoking habit, the health of this region would greatly improve. We also don’t get enough exercise.

However, in a free society, government can’t force people to quit smoking, lose weight and get more exercise. However, if Kentucky would to raise the tax on cigarettes and more communities would join Ashland and more two dozen other Kentucky communities in enacting bans on public smoking, it would encourage more people to not smoke. Unfortunately, no other area city or county has enacted an ordinance restricting smoking in public since Ashland approved its ban more than a decade ago.

Statewide polls show nearly two out of every three adults support a statewide ban on public smoking, but a bill to impose such a ban again failed in the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly despite being supported by the influential Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Legislators who fear supporting restrictions on public smoking will cost them at the polls should know not a single county or city that has enacted smoking bans had repealed those bans because of voter reprisals.

Improving our health is something only the people of this region can do by committing themselves to living healthier lifestyles. As long as too many of us continue  to be smoking, overweight couch potatoes, the overall health of this region will continue to lag behind those of the rest of the state and nation. That also has an impact on economic development. Employers do not want to locate in a community where they fear too many workers will miss days because of smoking-related illnesses. Unhealthy workers cost employers.

There is nothing in the latest health rankings to cause this region to boast. Instead, our dismal scores should inspire us to commit ourselves to do better.

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