Kentucky dropped two spots in the 25th annual America's Health Rankings report this year and finds itself once again as one of the bottom five healthiest (or unhealthiest) states.
Since the rankings were first released in 1990, with the exception of 2008 when it ranked 39th, Kentucky has ranked in the bottom 10 states for health. This year it ranks 47th.
The rankings are based on data gathered in the last two to three years, or even earlier, a fact state officials noted as they mentioned the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
"While we have made much headway in the last year, we still have much work to do," said a statement from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. "We expect that Kentucky’s statistics will begin to improve over time as the full effect of the ACA is reflected in future rankings. However, this change may take time, as Kentucky will be compared to other states that may more quickly see their health outcomes improve.”
Gov. Steve Beshear has made changing health behaviors to create a healthier population a priority for the state. He initiated the Kyhealthnow initiative, which established seven major measurable goals to improve the health status of Kentuckians over the next five years. He has also banned the use of tobacco products on most state properties.
Kentucky has already shown an improvement in smoking. While Kentucky still ranks second in smoking, fewer Kentuckians are smoking. In the past two years, smoking has decreased by 9 percent to 26.5 percent from 29 percent. In 1990, 35.3 percent of Kentuckians smoked.
"The decline in smoking rates stands out as a significant health improvement over the past 25 years," says the American Health Rankings news release. "Cigarette smoking is still associated with one of every five deaths in the United States, making it the leading cause of preventable death in the country."
Kentucky, like the rest of the nation, is getting fatter and becoming more sedentary.
Kentucky ranks fifth in obesity, with 33.2 percent of its adults having a body mass index of 30.0 or higher. In 1990, only 12.2 percent were obese. Kentucky doesn't fare much better with physical inactivity, ranking ninth with 27.4 percent reporting inactivity in the last 30 days.
Nationwide, obesity rates increased by 7 percent to 29.4 percent from 27.6 percent and the percentage of adults reporting inactivity in the last 30 days increased to 23.5 percent from 22.9 percent.
Kentucky has also seen a steady increase in the percentage of its adults with diabetes. Kentucky ranks 33rd in diabetes, with 10.6 percent of its adults reporting they have been told by a doctor that they have diabetes. In 1996, 3.6 percent of Kentuckians reported having diabetes.
Drug deaths have increased by 30 percent in the last two years, to 24 per 100,000 population from 18. Kentucky ranks third in this measurement.
Kentucky ranks first in four measures: children in poverty (31.8 percent), preventable hospitalizations (94.4 per 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries), poor mental health days (4.5 days reported in the previous 30 days), and cancer deaths (228.3 deaths per 100,000 population).
The number of children in poverty has increased by 36 percent in the past two years (31.8 percent from 23.3 percent).
Kentucky does have a few bright spots on the evaluated health measures including a low prevalence of binge drinking, a low violent crime rate and high immunization coverage among children.
Hawaii, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Utah are ranked as the top five healthiest states. Mississippi is ranked 50th this year, preceded by Arkansas (49), Louisiana (48), Kentucky (47) and Oklahoma (46). West Virginia and Alabama moved out of the bottom five.
To see the Rankings in full, visit www.americashealthrankings.org.