Kentucky’s rates of leisure-time physical activity are among the lowest in the nation; Carter and Pike counties may be the worst

In three-fourths of Kentucky’s counties, more than 30 percent of adults say they get no physical activity in their leisure time, according to new survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The statewide average is 30.1 percent. The problem is largely an Appalachian one; four Eastern Kentucky counties may have the highest percentage of physically inactive adults in the country.

CDC’s telephone surveys indicate that 42.8 percent of adults in Pike and Carter counties were physically inactive in 2006-08. The only county with a higher figure, 43 percent, was McDowell County, West Virginia, which nearly borders Pike County. Magoffin and McCreary counties, also in Appalachia, rank fourth and fifth. The statewide rate for Kentucky is 30 percent; Kentucky Health Facts has this listing of county rates.

County figures are subject to error margins depending on the size of a county and its sample in the survey. Error margins are usually expressed in terms of a 95 percent confidence level, meaning that in 19 of 20 cases if the entire population were surveyed, the result would be within the error margin. For example, in Carter County, there’s a 19 in 20 chance that the figure is between 36.3 and 50.4 percent. A less strict test is standard deviation, which gives the likely result if the data are distributed like the famous “bell curve.” In Carter County, the standard deviation is 3.6 percentage points for each figure, meaning there’s about a two-out-of-three chance that between 39.2 and 46.4 percent of adults in Carter County are physically inactive — in any case, very high.

Because Pike County is larger and produces a larger sample for the survey, the error margin there is smaller, with a standard deviation of 2.6 percentage points. At the 95 percent confidence level, Pike County’s physical-inactivity figure is between 37.9 and 48.2 percent. At the standard deviation it is between 40.2 and 45.4 percent — again, very high in any case.

Magoffin County, with a likely rate of 42.2 percent, has a standard deviation of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points and a range of 33.4 to 52.7. McCreary County, at 41.6 percent, has a standard deviation of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points and a range of 33.4 to 51.2 percent.

Colors indicate level of inactivity for each county; legend below (click map for larger image)


Fayette County was the only Kentucky county below the 2006-08 national rate of 25.4 percent, with a rate of 25.3 percent, plus or minus a standard deviation of 1.8 percentage points. It was followed by Calloway (25.5, plus or minus 2.7 points), Oldham (27.2, plus or minus 3.3), Henderson (27.5 percent, plus or minus 2.5) and Jefferson (27.6 percent, plus or minus 1.1).

Light blue/green: 21.1 to 26 percent
Medium blue: 26.1 to 31.1 percent
Dark blue 31.2 percent and above

Activity rates were higher in the northwestern quadrant of the state, in the Louisville and Evansville metropolitan areas. More than 30 percent of adults in Eastern and Southern Kentucky were physically inactive, making Kentucky adults as a whole some of the least physically active in the country. Physical inactivity rates were 29.2 percent or higher for more than 70 percent of the counties in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Mississippi had the highest percentage of counties whose adults fell in the lowest of four levels measured, followed by Tennessee.

The results are based on data collected by the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which is an ongoing telephone survey. People were listed as physically inactive if they answered “no” to this question: “During the past month, other than your regular job, did you participate in any physical activities or exercises such as running, calisthenics, golf, gardening or walking for exercise?” Three years of data are used to compute each year’s results. (Read more)

Lack of physical activity is a risk factor for developing obesity and Type 2 diabetes. CDC numbers show the proportion of U.S. adults who are obese was 33.9 percent in 2007-2008. Obesity-related medical costs were as high as $147 billion in 2008. The average annual medical costs for an obese person are $1,429 more than for someone who weighs a normal amount. In 2010, 25.6 million people had diabetes. Kentucky’s obesity and diabetes rates are among the highest in the nation.

Orange: 26.3 to 29.7 percent
Red: Above 29.8 percent
Orange: 8.5 to 10.1 percent
Red: Above 10.1 percent

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One Reply to “Kentucky’s rates of leisure-time physical activity are among the lowest in the nation; Carter and Pike counties may be the worst”

  1. cwillis

    How depressing. That's why it's so important to start young, to get kids thinking about physical activity as a matter of routine. And why I'm especially grateful that you guys gave the FIT4FUN quarterly reader for kids K-3 a nice mention recently.
    It doesn't have to be anything involving expensive equipment or organized athletics – just get out and walk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go for a hike with the kids. Ride a bike.
    -Cary Willis

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