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Study says county residents are healthier

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By Calen McKinney

 

Taylor Countians seem a bit healthier today than in the past.

However, an annual study that ranks counties has revealed that more Taylor County residents are uninsured now than in the past.

According to a Cabinet for Health and Family Services news release, Oldham County is the healthiest county in Kentucky for the second year in a row.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released its fourth 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 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 31st in health outcomes, up from 32nd in last’s year report, and 28th in health factors, up considerably from 41st in the 2012 report.

The 32nd and 28th finishes place Taylor County in the top half of the state’s 120 counties.

Taylor County fared best on the report in 2011, when it scored 20th on health outcomes and 33rd in health factors. In 2010, the county scored 26th and 25th, respectively.

According to this year’s rankings, Boone, Shelby, Lyon and Spencer counties round out the Top 5 healthiest counties in Kentucky.

Taylor Regional Hospital CEO Jane Wheatley said she believes a reason for Taylor County’s scores improved comes down to education.

“I think that’s having a positive effect,” she said. “I think people are being more aware.”

Taylor County is part of the Lake Cumberland District Health Department, which offers many free educational classes for residents.

The hospital and health department offer free programs on topics such as diabetes, nutrition, exercise and how to quit smoking. And Wheatley says she believes those classes are helping residents become more healthy.

LCDHD Executive Director Shawn Crabtree said this year’s scores are good, but show more work needs to be done.

“While we are pleased with Taylor County’s progress with these health indicators, keep in mind that Kentucky is still one of the unhealthiest states in the nation, and that our nation is one of the unhealthiest in the industrialized world.

“The key point is, we have a very long way to go.”

Wheatley said she believes residents are being encouraged to do more preventative testing today.

She said insurance plans didn’t cover such testing in the past, but some do now.

And, she said, she believes schools today are encouraging their students to make healthier eating and exercise choices.

This year’s report states that the percentage of Taylor Countians in “poor” or “fair” health has declined from 23 to 21 percent.

Wheatley said she hopes that those surveyed are the same people from year to year. If not, she said, the figures could be skewed.

Fewer Taylor County residents are smoking now, the report states. Last year’s report shows that 28 percent said they smoke. Only 25 percent say they do now, but the county’s rate is still higher than the state average of 26 percent.

Only 13 percent of people nationwide said they smoke, according to the survey.

Wheatley said more Taylor County residents might have put down their cigarettes because of how much they cost today.

“It’s gotten so expensive, that has [to have] lowered it some.”

The city has passed a smoking ban in public buildings, Wheatley said.

Many businesses have followed suit, such as TRH and Campbellsville University, making their campuses entirely smoke-free. Wheatley said she believes that has also decreased the number of smokers in the area.

State legislators recently stopped short of approving a statewide public smoking ban, Wheatley said.

Taylor County’s rates of obesity and physical inactivity remain the same this year as last, at 33 and 28 percent, respectively. The obesity rate is the same as the state’s average, though Taylor County residents are more inactive than the state’s average of 31 percent.

Wheatley is a strong proponent of opening a YMCA in the county and says she believes it will help residents - children included - become more fit and active.

“There’s just not enough for kids to do,” she said.

She said an employee was recently hired to begin searching for funding and grants for a YMCA. A major donor is needed to get the project moving and for the YMCA to sustain itself.

“Not a day goes by someone doesn’t ask about the Y,” Wheatley said. “There’s a lot of people that have a lot interest.”

More Taylor Countians are drinking alcohol excessively, according to the report, up from 8 to 11 percent in this year’s survey.

Wheatley said some might say this is because the city is wet, though she says she doesn’t believe that and wonders, again, if the same people were surveyed from year to year.

The number of Taylor Countians who don’t have health insurance has grown, albeit a small percentage. According to the report, 20 percent of Taylor County residents don’t have insurance, an increase from last year’s 18 percent. Statewide average falls at 11 percent.

A reason for this, Wheatley said she believes, is economics.

“Some people just can’t afford insurance,” she said.

And while some residents have policies, Wheatley said, some have $2,500 and $5,000 deductibles, which makes paying for care difficult. She said TRH staff members see a lot of people they call “underinsured.”

The study shows that preventable hospital stays are down among Taylor Countians, at 87 per 1,000, down from 92 in last year’s report.

It also shows there are fewer children living in poverty in Taylor County than there used to be, the report states.

This year’s report says 30 percent of children live in poverty now, as opposed to the 35 percent who did in last year’s report.

And, the teen birth rate has decreased in Taylor County. In this year’s report, the rate falls at 48. In 2012, the figure was 52.

Wheatley said she believes schools today are educating children about what it would be like to be a teen parent and not allowing them to drop out of school.

“I’ve got to give the schools credit,” she said. “It’s showing.”

The rate of single-parent homes has decreased also, from 41 to 37 percent. When considering the births at TRH, however, Wheatley said she doesn’t believe that statistic.

There are many ways residents can become healthier, Wheatley said, starting with taking preventative health measures.

“I think it’s just something that everybody has to work at,” she said.

Wheatley said it’s important to recognize health risk factors and be educated about them.

An easy way to be healthier, Wheatley said, is taking advantage of free classes offered by TRH and the health department.

The hospital will host its health fair on Saturday, June 22, and this year offer a free skin cancer screening.

“When there’s free things out there, take advantage of them,” she said.

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