A statewide poll released this month showed that western Kentuckians' views on such issues as smoking, school nutrition, physical activity and the Affordable Care Act unexpectedly fell in line with prevailing attitudes in the rest of the state.
The majority of adults in the 42-county polling region favored a statewide smoke-free law, tobacco-free policies on school campuses, new school nutrition standards and a required 30 minutes of physical activity in schools. The 2013 Kentucky Health Issues Poll was sponsored by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health.
"We kind of think of western Kentucky as a rugged individualist, not necessarily looking to government for solutions to problems. So when we found that the majority of adults in western Kentucky - 65 percent - favored a statewide smoke-free law, that got our attention," Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said Friday in an interview at The Paducah Sun.
The poll also found that while a slight majority of western Kentuckians polled (51 percent) held an unfavorable opinion of the Affordable Care Act, 74 percent favored the decision to expand Medicaid in the commonwealth, and 89 percent stated it was either very or somewhat important to them that Kentucky Medicaid provide health care coverage to low-income individuals. A minority - 34 percent - felt they had enough information about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to know how it would affect them personally.
Zepeda said that in previous years, the poll asked about other aspects of the ACA, such as keeping children on their parents' insurance until the age of 26, with similar results. The poll has not asked why Kentuckians felt unfavorably toward the law but not toward the aspects of it that have come online.
"We can infer that it's a branding issue, almost," Zepeda said. "Each of the elements polls favorably in Kentucky, but the name continues to poll unfavorably."
The one difference between western Kentucky and the rest of the commonwealth was that adult smokers in this region were less likely to have been offered help or counseling by a doctor or nurse to stop smoking.
The foundation interviewed a random sample of 1,551 adults from Kentucky by telephone in October and November of 2013. Of those, 307 lived in the western Kentucky region, which includes Barren River, Green River, Lincoln Trail, Pennyrile and Purchase Area Development Districts.
Zepeda said the nonprofit foundation uses the data collected in the polls to keep policy makers informed.
"Our aim in doing the Kentucky Health Issues Poll is to be sure that policy makers are hearing from a cross-section of Kentuckians as to what their views are. Not just people who pick up the phone or email (them), but hard-working Kentuckians," she said.
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.