Knox among state’s unhealthiest counties

In a recent health rankings report for Kentucky, Knox County didn’t fair so well.

The rankings, published by Kentucky Health News, an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, “looks at health outcomes, gauged by life expectancy and measures the quality of life; and health factors, such as access to physicians and areas to exercise, tobacco use, children living in poverty, violent crime, long commutes and other environmental factors.”

Knox County ranked in the bottom five counties in the state, along with Clay, Harlan, Leslie and McCreary counties, representing a significant portion of Appalachian counties in Kentucky, in poor health outcomes.

While numbers are showing a continued decline in overall health, positive things are being done to battle back.

“In 2017, Knox County ranked 102 in Health Outcomes and 115 in Health Factors. We continuously work to improve our ranking by providing programs that can help to impact the overall health of the community,” said Rebecca Raines, Knox County Health Department Director. “Community education, communicable disease surveillance, tobacco cessation, diabetes management, abstinence education, and WIC are all programs that the Knox County Health Department provides that work to improve the health of Knox County residents.”

According to the study, Knox’s 2018 ranking, a dismal 118 out of Kentucky’s 120 counties for health factors, and 107 in health outcomes, is attributed to 29% of the county’s population being smokers, and 43% obesity rate, as well as levels of physical inactivity, access to exercise opportunities, alcohol-impaired driving deaths and teen pregnancies, among other factors.

Raines addressed the decline, “The County Health Rankings data is compiled of several factors, some of which are out of our control, such as Physical Environment. For 2018, there were a few new factors added.  One of those is Children in Poverty.  For Knox County, we rank well above the state average, which negatively affects our overall ranking.  Knox County also has rates above the state average in adults who smoke, obesity rates, physical inactivity, access to exercise opportunities, and teen births.   Other factors that affect the overall ranking include alcohol and drug use, access to clinical care, education, unemployment rates, community safety, adequate housing, and transit services.  The 5 lowest ranked counties are all rural counties.”

The county ranked better in the physical environment category, with a 51 of 120 ranking. This category sites low severe housing problems (17%), shorter work commutes (25%), and driving alone to work (85%).

Ranking in the top five counties in Kentucky were Oldham (#1), Boone, Woodford, Campbell and Spencer counties. In comparison to Knox County, Oldham County shows 16% smoking and 28% obesity rates as well as significantly less instances of physical inactivity and a much greater increase in access to exercise opportunities.

Raines echoes the success of the upper-ranking counties in ways Knox can make improvements. “Some of the factors that every resident can assist with is increasing their physical activity, which in return should reduce the obesity rate, and to abstain from smoking and using tobacco products.  Having safer communities, higher employment rates, and more students attending college can also improve the ranking,” Raines said.