Kentucky is near the bottom of the list in a ranking that determines which states are the healthiest. It came in 43rd, up from 44th last year.
Kentucky's low ranking is attributed to its unusually high numbers of people who smoke, are obese, die of cancer and are hospitalized for preventable reasons, according to America's Health Rankings, funded by the United Health Foundation.
"As it has for the last decade, Mississippi was ranked 50th on this year's list, which was topped by Vermont at No. 1," Louisville's Business First reports.
"Kentucky's rank of 43rd is a reminder that, while are making progress, as Kentuckians we still have much to do to keep ill health from holding us down," said Susan Zepeda, president/CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. "The good news is there are many concerned civic leaders working to reduce rates of smoking and obesity in the state and keep young people from starting to smoke."
Highlights of the report show:
• While smoking has decreased from 30.5 percent to 24.8 percent of Kentucky adults in the past 10 years, 822,000 still smoke. Recently, Kentucky ranked 36th in the nation for its smoking cessation efforts.
• Almost 1.1 million Kentuckians are obese, 353,000 more than 10 years ago.
• Diabetes decreased from 11.5 percent to 10 percent of the populations in the past year, but there are still 322,000 adults in Kentucky with diabetes.
• In the past five years, the percentage of people without health insurance increased from 13 percent to 15.4 percent.
• In the past 10 years, the percentage of children living in poverty increased from 15.2 percent to 24.7 percent.
As for the entire country, overall health has not improved this year over 2010. "Between 1990 and 2000, the overall health of the nation ... improved by an average of 1.6 percent each year. After 2000, however, the upward trend slowed to 0.5 percent annually," until this year, Health.com reports.
"Physical activity, nutrition, and tobacco: If we could get people focused on those three, we could take a huge bite out of the chronic-disease epidemic," said Georges Benjamin, the executive director of American Public Health Association. "This is not an infinite list of things that people have to address."
America's Health Rankings has been assessing health data for the past 22 years, making it the longest-running health assessment report in the country. For its methodology, researchers look at four groups of health determinants: behaviors, such as smoking and obesity rates; community and environment, such as children living in poverty, violent crime and infectious disease; public and health policies, such as lack of health insurance and public health funding; and clinic care, such as prenatal care, the number of primary care physician and preventable hospitalization rates.
Each of these four determinants are intimately connected with one other, researchers contend. "For example, an initiative that addresses tobacco cessation requires not only efforts on the part of the individual but also support from the community in the form of public and health policies that promote non-smoking and the availability of effective counseling and care at clinics," the report reads.
Data sources include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; American Medical Association; Federal Bureau of Investigation; U.S. Census Bureau; and National Center for Health Statistics.