A life spent in Boyd or Greenup counties is expected to be longer than one spent in neighboring Kentucky counties.
Life expectancy is perhaps the most basic measure of a community’s overall health. Health researchers say that’s due to a complex web of factors that influence health: opportunities for education and jobs, safe and affordable housing, availability of nutritious food and places for physical activity, and access to health care, child care and social services.
Life expectancy in Boyd and Greenup counties is 75 years, a year short of the state average. Expectancies in neighboring counties are 74 in Lewis and Carter and 73 in Lawrence. Morgan is the only Eastern Kentucky county on par with state average. Oldham County has the highest life expectancy, 79.
The numbers are on a Kentucky life expectancy map released Monday by researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It shows that chances to lead a long and healthy life can vary dramatically by county.
“Health differences between communities are rarely due to a single cause,” the researchers said in a press release. “The health differences shown in these maps aren’t unique to one area. We see them in big cities, small towns, and rural areas across America,” said Derek Chapman, the VCU center’s associate director for research.
The map is the latest effort by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to raise public awareness of the many factors that shape health, particularly social and economic factors.
Another is the County Health Rankings, done annually by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The rankings are not comprehensive explanations of life expectancy, but they offer helpful correlations.
Boyd County ranks 51st out of 120 Kentucky counties in overall health outcomes and 34th in factors that influence those outcomes. About 37 percent of the county’s residents are obese, compared to 32 percent statewide. However, the county scores high in clinical care; it has a primary care physician for every 920 residents; the statewide ratio is 1,500 to 1.
Greenup County fares even better in the rankings: 46th in health outcomes and 25th in health factors. It has a slightly higher rate of obesity (38 percent) than the state, but its percentage of children living in poverty, smoking and teen births are all below state averages.
Both counties are more highly ranked relative to their Ohio and West Virginia counterparts. Lawrence County ranks 82nd out of 88 Ohio counties in overall health outcomes, with high rates of obesity. Scioto County ranks 83rd, with high rates of obesity, smoking and children living in poverty.
Wayne County ranks 43rd out of 55 West Virginia counties in overall health outcomes. It has a greater obese population than the state as a whole, as well as fewer physically active residents.
The complete rankings for Boyd County are available at http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/app/kentucky/2016/rankings/boyd/county/outcomes/overall/snapshot.
The rankings for Greenup County are available at http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/app/kentucky/2016/rankings/greenup/county/outcomes/overall/snapshot.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health says it and partners have several efforts underway to tackle the many factors that shape health:
-Promotion of farmers’ markets and their acceptance of federal food assistance benefits such as SNAP, WIC and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program Vouchers, incentive programs to help with affordability and community outreach.
-Promotion of walking and walkability by providing communities with targeted training and technical assistance to develop pedestrian plans.
-Protecting youth from tobacco exposure through the “100 percent Tobacco Free Schools” program, which provides guidance to districts that wish to reduce tobacco use by students and staff.
Experts say local efforts are needed, too.
“We must build a society where everyone, no matter where they live, the color of their skin, their financial or family situation, has the opportunity to lead a productive, healthy life,” said RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Each community must chart its own course, and every person has a role to play in achieving better health in their homes, their communities, their schools and their workplaces.”