Appalachian Kentucky has much of what it needs to improve its poor health status, key federal officials agree

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

Appalachian Kentucky has the enthusiasm, creativity, people and facilities needed to greatly improve its dismal health status, two high-ranking federal officials said after looking at the problem on a recent tour.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, Rep. Hal Rogers

“I want to stir up our people to get involved in a grass-roots effort,” U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers, R-Somerset, who hosted Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on a four-stop tour of his Fifth Congressional District in early August.

Rogers and Frieden were guests on KET’s “One to One” Sunday afternoon, in a program recorded right after they returned from their trip, where Frieden said he saw much creativity and enthusiasm.

Using one of Rogers’s favorite sayings, Frieden said, “If you plan your work and work your plan, you may very well have tremendous success.”

Rogers said what struck him most about the trip was “the infrastructure we already have in place,” including hospitals, health departments, doctors and other health providers, and he wants to “talk about enhancing them.

Rogers is in a position to do that with federal money, because he is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He is also co-founder, with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, an initiative to improve the economy of Eastern Kentucky.

Asked by “One to One” moderator Bill Goodman where the role of government begins and personal responsibility for health begins, Frieden said, in an apparent reference to smoking bans, “You don’t want to go to your job and get cancer as a result.”

“We don’t tell people what to do” at the CDC, he said, but offer communities choices from a list of proven programs. Earlier, he said smoke-free laws not only reduce smoking, but heart attacks among non-smokers.

Rogers said he asked Frieden what one thing he would recommend for improving personal health in the region, and the doctor replied, “Walk.”

Frieden said walking is an especially good option for Kentuckians because they have such a beautiful state. However, many rural areas in the state lack sidewalks or other easily accessible places to walk.

“Physical activity is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug” for all sorts of ailments, Frieden said, “but you have to do something you love to do” in order to stick with it. He said it also helps children be good students: “The more physical activity they get, the better their minds will work.”

That point was made a few days before the two men’s trip, at the Kentucky Summit on Childhood Obesity and Physical Activity at the University of Kentucky.

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