A healthy Ky. isn’t out of reach

Two news stories last week about Kentucky health statistics were technically unrelated but both point to the importance of community-based solutions to improving health.

One story outlined substantial differences in average life expectancy among the state’s 120 counties as reported in a study by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Oldham County has the longest life expectancy at 79 years. Breathitt, Perry and Wolfe have the shortest at 70. Christian and Trigg counties are at the mid-range, 75 years, and Trigg County was slightly better at 76 years.

“Health researchers say life expectancy is driven by 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,” Kentucky Health News reported.

The other story came from the Saving Our Appalachian Region Innovation Summit last week at Pikeville, which an estimated 1,000 people attended. One of the speakers for the SOAR meeting, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cited successful approaches to improving health in regions affected by different factors.

“Health is not just about health, it’s about society,” Frieden said, according to Kentucky Health News. “Healthy societies are more productive, and productive societies are more healthy.”

Frieden noted several U.S. communities that have addressed specific health concerns. Somerville, Massachusetts, for example, reduced obesity in children under 6 by 21 percent with an emphasis on healthy food and activity. The approach included an expansion of farmers’ markets selling local produce and the creation of walking paths. Somerville’s mayor set an example by leading walks.

Public health officials consistently rank healthful eating, physical activity and smoking cessation as keys to addressing obesity, heart disease and cancer — all health factors that consistently rank among our state’s most serious issues.

These are not new revelations, but the two stories are important reminders that local policy-makers, including city councils, school boards and fiscal courts, have a role in a community’s efforts to improve health. This work is not limited to health departments and hospitals. Often, the most significant changes come from public agencies that are not directly involved in health care.

Kentucky New Era

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