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Kentucky 49th in well-being study

BY DAVID ZOELLER dzoeller@paducahsun.com

For the fifth year in a row, Kentucky ranks 49th in the nation in a well-being survey.

The Gallup organization and Healthways, a Franklin, Tenn.-based company, have compiled their Well-Being Index since 2008. Only West Virginia was ranked lower than Kentucky in the most recent survey. North and South Dakota were ranked first and second, respectively.

The survey examines a participant's perceptions on a variety of topics including physical and emotional health, healthy behaviors, work environment, social and community factors, financial security, and access to necessities like food, shelter and health care. The results are used to create a well-being rank for each state, community and congressional district.

Kentucky's Fifth Congressional District, which covers eastern Kentucky, ranked last overall out of the 434 congressional districts of Congress, according to the survey. Kentucky's First Congressional District, which includes Paducah, ranked second lowest in the state and 418th overall.

"Well-being encompasses how we think about and experience our lives," according to James Pope and James Harter, science officers for Healthways and Gallup, respectively, in an introduction to the 2013 index. "This information gives employers, health plans, health systems, governments and communities unmatched insight into the state of their populations."

Kentucky being at or near the bottom of national health-related rankings is not new. Last year Gov. Steve Beshear cited the state's poor ranking nationally in a number of health categories, along with the estimated 640,000 Kentuckians with no health insurance, as reasons to expand Medicaid and establish a Health Benefit Exchange under provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  That exchange, kynect, has enrolled over 402,000 individuals to date.

Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, Kentucky Department for Public Health commissioner, knows the state has a lot of work to do in improving the health of its citizens. Kentucky is among the national leaders in a number of categories, including cancer diagnoses, smoking rates, diabetes and heart disease.

"I'm familiar with the (well-being) report and other reports like if where we are down at or near the bottom," Mayfield said. "That's why we have this aggressive initiative, kyhealthnow, to develop strategies to address our health issues."

As part of kyhealthnow, seven major health goals have been set to be achieved within the next five years. They include reductions in the rate of uninsured (to less than 5 percent), smoking rate (by 10 percent), obesity rate (by 10 percent), cancer deaths (by 10 percent), percentage of children with untreated dental decay (by 25 percent), deaths from drug overdose (by 25 percent) along with reducing the average number of poor mental health days by 25 percent.

Admitting the challenges are great, Mayfield said she feels the "stars have aligned" to bring about change. The governor's support - which includes establishing a cabinet-level oversight team for kyhealthnow ­- and the success of the health exchange are reasons to be optimistic the strategic goals can be achieved, she said.

"We're trying to bring about sustainable change to help our state move forward," Mayfield said. "I've never heard of studying for a test where you try to make a C. We're aiming high."

Contact David Zoeller, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.

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