Floyd County newspaper editor calls on readers to make lifestyle changes to address area’s diabetes health crisis

The editor of an Eastern Kentucky newspaper has joined an advocacy group’s call for residents in his county to make simple, healthy lifestyle changes, serving as an example of how local newspapers and community members can engage the public to confront poor health status of the area, which is often put on the back-burner despite alarming warning signs.

Recently, the Tri-County Diabetes Partnership declared the rate of diabetes in Floyd, Johnson and Magoffin counties (map) “a crisis of epidemic proportions.” The rate in 2002-10, the latest available, was 14 percent.

If the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “saw a similar increase in any other illness, they would probably declare a national emergency,” said J.D. Miller, vice president of medical affairs for Appalachian Regional Healthcare, who chaired the meeting.

The group’s statement was an appropriate response to direct public’s attention to the imperative of addressing the area’s skyrocketing rate of the disease, Ralph Davis of The Floyd County Times wrote in an editorial.

Diabetes will remain a crisis unless we do something about it, said Davis, and “if you have been waiting for a crisis before making healthy lifestyle changes, we’ve got one for you. In fact, we have several,” Davis said.

The Central Appalachian region suffers from disproportionate rates of diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and Floyd, Magoffin and Johnson counties have much higher rates of obesity than state and national averages, Davis notes. Floyd County ranks last among the state’s 120 counties in overall health measures, and Johnson and Magoffin counties are ranked 108th and 104th, respectively.

To do something about this problem, Davis calls for concentrated attention by health care providers and government officials, but the problem won’t be solved without action from the community and individuals, he says. Simple, healthy lifestyle changes are needed.

“It’s going to require the conscious decision by everyone in the region to do what they can to improve their diet and exercise habits, and to encourage their friends and family to do the same,” said Davis.

Calls like Davis’s are needed even more in most of the counties that surround the three counties, based on data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Surveillance System. The counties in dark blue had rates above 14 percent; the highest was Greenup, at 17 percent.

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