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Opinion: Building a healthier tomorrow for Kentucky, today

By Dr. Julie Daftari, UnitedHealthcare of Kentucky Medical director

Dr. Julie Daftari
Dr. Julie Daftari

In an annual check up of our nation’s health, Kentucky ranked 44th among all 50 states in 2015. Those findings come from United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings® Annual Report, which has been measuring national and state health for just over a quarter of a century.

As the state medical director for UnitedHealthcare, I always look forward to the America’s Health Rankings Annual Report because it offers an overview of where we stand in health both as a nation and relative to our peer states. The report provides a reflection of Kentucky’s health that is at once sobering and encouraging.

Kentucky’s Strengths:
· Low violent crime rate: Kentucky has the 5th lowest violent crime rate in the U.S., with 210 offenses per 100,000 people.
· Low prevalence of excessive drinking: 13.6 percent of the adult population reports drinking excessively, ranking Kentucky 6th nationally.
· High rate of high school graduation: Kentucky ranks 12th, with 86.1 percent of incoming ninth graders graduating in four years.

Kentucky’s Challenges:
· High rate of cancer deaths: Kentucky ranks last in the country, with nearly 229 cancer deaths per 100,000 people.
· High rate of preventable hospitalizations: The state also ranks last for preventable hospitalizations, with 85.1 discharges per 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries.
· High prevalence of smoking: More than 26 percent of Kentucky adults smoke, which ranks the state 49th in the U.S.

Measuring and monitoring our nation’s health has never been more important, and the results of this year’s America’s Health Rankings Annual Report show how far we’ve come in the last 26 years – and how far we still have to go as a country.

This year’s data show that as a nation, Americans are smoking less and living less sedentary lifestyles; however, our country is facing complex health challenges that threaten Americans’ health and quality of life. Obesity and diabetes are at all-time highs, and rates of drug deaths – including including illegal and prescription drug abuse – and children living in poverty are on the rise.

Understanding trends in health and wellness makes it clear where we need to focus our resources and attention. When it comes to the future of Kentucky’s health, and America’s health, we are all in it together. Let’s commit now to making the changes necessary to ensure that we build a healthier tomorrow, today.

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