Residents healthier than others in Kentucky

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By Calen McKinney


Taylor Countians are healthier than the majority of those who live in Kentucky, even though they aren't quite as healthy this year as last. And a report says their overall quality of life has decreased.

An annual study that ranks Kentucky's 120 counties in terms of health has revealed that Taylor County comes in as the 42nd healthiest county in health outcomes and, for the second year in a row, the 28th state in terms of health factors.

Health outcomes are considered to be how healthy a county is, while health factors are what influences the county's health.

This year's report shows that more than a quarter of Taylor County's residents are obese and physically inactive. And nearly a quarter of residents say they smoke.

Nevertheless, fewer residents are obese and smoke than in the past. And there are fewer people uninsured in the community now than before.

According to the study, Oldham County is the healthiest county in Kentucky for the third year in a row.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released its fifth annual county health rankings last week. The study compares counties based on health outcomes and health rankings. Multiple factors that influence health are considered, from lifestyle choices to access to care and much more.

Health outcomes refer to the current health status in each county, while health factors allude to health care quality and behaviors.

Also included in the ranking are factors such as death rate, illness, smoking, physical environment, alcohol, teen birth rate and more.

In this year's report, Taylor County ranks 42nd in health outcomes, which is down considerably from 31st in last's year report, and 28th in health factors, the same as in 2013.

Taylor County fared best on the health report in 2011, when it scored 20th on health outcomes and 33rd in health factors. In 2010, the county scored 26th and 25th, respectively. In 2012, Taylor County's scores were 32nd in health outcomes and 41st in health factors.

According to this year's rankings, Boone, Shelby, Calloway and Scott round out the Top 5 counties in health outcomes. In health factors, Woodford, Boone, Fayette and Scott round out the Top 5.

This year's report states that the percentage of Taylor Countians in "poor" or "fair" health has increased from 21 to 22 percent.

When it comes to babies born at a low birth weight, the community is seeing more than in last year's report.

Fewer Taylor County residents are smoking now. The report stated last year that 25 percent of residents said they smoke. Only 23 percent say they do now and the rate has fallen lower than the state average of 26 percent. Fourteen percent of people nationwide said they smoke, according to the survey.

Slightly fewer people in Taylor County are obese now. This year's report states that 32 percent of residents are obese, while 33 percent were in the last report. The state average is also 33 percent.

The number of inactive Taylor County residents has stayed the same, at 28 percent. The report states that, when averaged, 33 percent of the people in Kentucky are physically inactive.

Taylor Countians seemingly have more sexually transmitted diseases than they once did. In the 2013 report, 379 were reported. This year's report states that there have been 421, higher than the state average of 381.

The teen birth rate in Taylor County has increased slightly. In the 2013 report, there were 48 listed. In this year's report, there are 49, which is also the state average.

The number of Taylor Countians who don't have health insurance has decreased, albeit a small percentage. According to the report, 19 percent of Taylor County residents don't have insurance, a decrease from last year's 20 percent. Statewide average falls at 17 percent.

The community's unemployment rate is down, from 9.2 percent in the 2013 report to 7.8 percent in this year's.

When it comes to children, Taylor County's statistics didn't fare well in this report when compared to the last one.

There are more children living in poverty now, up from 30 to 32 percent, and there are more children living in single-parent homes now, up from 37 to 40 percent.

Jaclyn Hodges, health educator for Taylor and Green County health departments, said it's hard to say why Taylor County's health outcome rating has dropped.

"A couple of speculations would be that other counties improved, which bumped us further down the list," she said. "Also, some of the measures have changed from 2013 to 2014. So within some categories, you are measuring apples to oranges."

While Taylor County's overall quality of life went from a ranking of 14th in Kentucky in 2013 to 34th in this year's report, Hodges said she doesn't believe that means Taylor County residents are unhappy.

"If you look at the measures, most of them actually improved," Hodges said, "and are slightly lower than the state average. Once again, I feel like other counties received an improved ranking, which in turn lowered ours."

The quality of life ranking comes from the number people in poor or fair health, the number of poor physical and mental health days residents reported and weight of newborn babies. Taylor County improved in all four categories.

Hodges said the social and economic factors portion of the report is the worst ranking category for Taylor County, at 65th out of the 120 counties in Kentucky.

That category falls in the health factors section of the report and includes items such as high school graduation rate, the number of residents who have some college education, unemployment rate, the number of children who live in poverty and the amount of single-parent homes, violent crime and more. Taylor County both improved and fell back in the category.

"There was a new measure added for 2014, injury deaths, which may have influenced the change some," Hodges said. "The others are comparable to the scores from last year. The two that have increased are the number of children in poverty and the number of children in single-parent households."

Hodges said she believes Taylor County residents are healthier than most Kentucky residents, which the numbers seem to prove.

"We have a lower death rate from chronic illnesses than the Lake Cumberland District and the state." Hodges said. "We have many resources in place that support healthy living, such as Campbellsville's smoke-free ordinance and new opportunities for physical activity. Our clinical care is better than most counties across the state as well."

To improve their healthy, Hodges said she believes residents need to continue to move in the direction they are, and to take responsibility for their health.

"If we continue to move in the direction we are headed in, I feel we will only see positive change," she said.

"Many of our community leaders are supportive of public health improvements. We need to continue encouraging our citizens to take responsibility for their health, exercise, get their recommended screenings, etc."

Hodges said she believes it's good to see that the county's overall health factors ranking hasn't changed from last year. The ranking holds steady in the top third of Kentucky's counties.

"It's a very positive ranking," Hodges said. "The items that are measured here are what determines our health in the future.

"Our rate of tobacco use, obesity, education, health coverage, etc. influences our length of life and quality of life. That should be our challenge as a community, to improve those factors and support each other in doing so."

For more information about this year's health rankings, and to read about Taylor County's past rankings, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.

The health rankings report for this year and last year are posted with this story online at www.cknj.com.

Getting Healthier

An effort is being made at the statewide level to see Kentucky residents become healthier.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear created a "kyhealthnow" team in February to discuss residents' health rankings and habits.

The team has targeted seven health goals to be met by 2019, including:

• Health insurance - Reduce Kentucky's rate of uninsured people to less than 5 percent.

• Smoking - Reduce Kentucky's smoking rate by 10 percent.

• Obesity - Reduce the rate of obesity among Kentuckians by 10 percent.

• Cancer - Reduce Kentucky cancer deaths by 10 percent.

• Cardiovascular Disease - Reduce cardiovascular deaths by 10 percent.

• Dental Decay - Reduce the percentage of children with untreated dental decay by 25 percent, and increase adult dental visits by 10 percent.

• Drug Addiction and Mental Health - Reduce deaths from drug overdose by 25 percent, and reduce the average number of poor mental health days of Kentuckians by 25 percent.

The team will meet quarterly and partner with state agencies to help meet its goals. The group will report progress to Beshear every six months.

Next week is National Public Health Week in Kentucky, and, according to a state news release, this year's theme is "Public Health: Start Here." The theme, the release states, appoints public health professionals as the community's guide through the public health system to help them achieve and maintain better health.