Life expectancy is perhaps the most basic measure of a community’s overall health. Health researchers say life expectancy is driven by a complex web of
factors that influence health: opportunities for education and jobs, safe and
affordable housing, availability of nutritious food and places for physical
activity, and access to health care, child care and social services.
Differences become more apparent moving east along the Bert
T. Combs Mountain Parkway and down its KY 15 extension. In general, the starkest comparisons in the state
exist between the metropolitan areas of Louisville and Lexington versus southeastern Kentucky counties. Only one Eastern Kentucky county, Morgan, has a life expectancy
equal to the state’s. Others range from 70 (Perry, Breathitt and Wolfe
counties) to 75, mostly found in counties in northeastern Kentucky.
Eastern Kentucky counties are not the only ones with below-average numbers. Other counties ouitside that region with life expectancies of 74 or below are Fulton, Webster, Muhlenberg, Gallatin, Carroll, Casey, Monroe, Metcalfe, Cumberland and Clinton.
Monday by researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society
and Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It shows that chances to
lead a long and healthy life can vary dramatically by county.
single cause,” the researchers said in a press release. “The health differences
shown in these maps aren’t unique to one area. We see them in big cities, small
towns, and rural areas across America,” said Derek Chapman, the VCU center’s
associate director for research.
Foundation to raise public awareness of the many factors that shape health,
particularly social and economic factors.
University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The rankings don’t provide
a comprehensive explanation for life expectancy, but they provide helpful
For example, Harlan County, with a life expectancy five years below the average, ranks 117th
in overall health outcomes and last in health factors. The county
has rates of smoking, obesity and teen births that are higher than statewide.
It also has less access to exercise opportunities. The rankings show that the county’s unemployment rate is nearly 14 percent, more than double the state’s. In addition, 43 percent of Harlan County children live in poverty, compared to the statewide figure, 26 percent.
have several efforts underway to tackle the many factors that shape health:
their acceptance of federal food assistance benefits such as SNAP, WIC and
Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program Vouchers, incentive programs to help
with affordability and community outreach.
by providing communities with targeted training and technical assistance to
develop pedestrian plans.
through the “100 percent Tobacco Free Schools” program, which provides guidance
to districts that wish to reduce tobacco use by students and staff.
Experts say local efforts are needed, too. “We must build a
society where everyone, no matter where they live, the color of their skin,
their financial or family situation, has the opportunity to lead a productive,
healthy life,” said RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Each
community must chart its own course, and every person has a role to play in
achieving better health in their homes, their communities, their schools and