EDITORIAL: Just how healthy are we?

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Spencer County ranks as the 11th healthiest county in Kentucky, which should come as no surprise if you’ve already read the story on the front of this week’s paper.
Yes, according to the County Health Rankings, released last week and compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, our fair county ranks among the healthiest 9 percent in the state.
Considering Kentucky as a whole has a reputation as a state with poor health, we felt it only fair to look at what kind of an achievement the county health ranking really is.
As it turns out, the United Health Foundation releases rankings by state at the website AmericasHealthRankings.org.
According to that list for 2010, Kentucky ranks 44 out of 50 in overall health. That puts the state in the bottom 12 percent in the country.
Also according to that list, Kentucky ranks dead last in poor mental health days, poor physical health days and cancer deaths.
Saying you’re the 11th healthiest county in the 44th healthiest state kind of takes a little fuel off the fire, doesn’t it?
We’re certainly not trying to rain on anyone’s parade – ranking 11 out of 120 is a lot better than being at the bottom (sorry, Owsley County) – but it’s only fair to take a look at the big picture.
The County Health Rankings consider two distinct facets of health: outcomes and factors.
When we say we are the 11th healthiest county, we are referencing the “outcomes.”
Outcomes are determined by the number of premature deaths; the percentage of people who report being in fair or poor health; the number of poor physical health days reported; the number of poor mental health days reported; and low birth weight.
About 17 percent of adults in Spencer County report being in fair or bad health. That’s basically one out of every five people.
The state percentage is pretty close – 22 percent.
But the national benchmark is 10 percent, or one in every 10 people.
Spencer County ranks 14th in health factors.
The health factors include health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment.
Here are some of those numbers that stood out to us:
Thirty-two percent of Spencer Countians are obese. If you have three people, that means one of them is obese. In comparison, 31 percent of Kentuckians are obese and the national benchmark is one out of every four, or 25 percent.
Twenty-three percent of adults in Spencer County are uninsured. It’s 19 percent in Kentucky, and the national benchmark is 13 percent.
Only 50 percent of Spencer Countians have access to healthy foods. That means half of us don’t?
That number especially stuck out to us, so we went digging a little deeper.
According to the County Health Rankings website, in 2011, access to healthy food “was based on the percent of residential ZIP codes in a county with a healthy food outlet, defined as grocery stores or produce stands/farmers’ markets.”
Our best efforts indicate there are six ZIP codes that fall within Spencer County lines. This would mean that three of those ZIP codes do not contain either a grocery store or farmers market.
OK, I can believe that. But that reason alone is not enough for us to believe that people don’t have “access” to healthy food.
Talk about money, talk about increased food prices and talk about increased gas prices – then we’ll listen.
The percentage of Kentuckians with “access” is even lower – 44 percent. Neither the state nor county is anywhere close to the national benchmark of 92 percent.
These reasons further back up our assumption that, in short, we need to get healthy, Spencer County.
For the latest in local health news, check out our April 20 edition. This copy of The Spencer Magnet will be hand-delivered to each mailbox in the county and will include a special section devoted to your health.
By improving our health, we can help improve our state, and set an example for our fellow Kentuckians.