Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 22, 2013

Low marks

Area counties among state’s least healthy places to live

The Independent

ASHLAND — In something that probably surprises few area residents, only two area counties — Rowan and Greenup — scored in the top half among Kentucky’s 120 counties in a new listing of the healthiest places to live in state in a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

While Oldham County on the outskirts of Louisville was deemed the healthiest county in the state, Floyd County had the dubious distinction of being named the least healthy county in Kentucky. However, Floyd was hardly alone among area counties in being deemed unhealthy places in which to live. Other area counties receiving low rankings in the report are Magoffin, 104; Lawrence, 100; Carter, 91; Boyd, 88; Elliott, 73; and Morgan, 69.

Overall, only three counties outside the mountain region were ranked in the lower half of counties deemed unhealthy places in which to live: Cumberland County on the Tennessee border in central Kentucky at 105; Gallatin County on the banks of the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Louisville at 94; and Ballard County on the Mississippi River in western Kentucky at 92. We find it interesting the rankings were released just days after news of a study that found increased health problems in coal-producing counties. However, we suspect smoking and obesity have as much, or more, to do with that negative statistic than coal mining.

Rowan was deemed the healthiest county in the eastern third of Kentucky, but its ranking of 38 among the 120 counties shows there is plenty of room for improvement. That’s even more true in Greenup County, which was ranked the 54th healthiest county in the state .

So how was it determined just how healthy the residents of a particular county are? Well, among the factors considered in compiling the rankings were 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 teen births.

The results of the new study are not particularly surprising because we have known for decades this region has the highest rate of smoking in Kentucky, has far too many teens giving birth and too many residents who are obese. The rate of diabetes in this region is well above the national average, which is likely a result of our poor eating habits. The region’s high rate of poverty also is a factor if for no other reason than eating healthy, balanced meals costs more than dining on pizza, spaghetti, beans and fried foods from fast-food restaurants. 

The rankings are intended to help communities create solutions for people to be healthy in their own communities. There are many good, conscientious organizations and individuals in this region who are fully aware of the problems and are seeking solutions to them.

However, individuals can have the greatest impact on improving this region’s overall health. When more of us begin to eat balanced meals, exercise more and either stop smoking or refuse to ever start, we will have healthier communities where people live longer and are ill less often. The choice is ours to make.