Ky. inches up in national health ranking, due to more coverage, HPV vaccination; but at 44th, it still has much work to do

Graphics are from America’s Health Ranking report

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky ranked in the bottom 10 states for 12 of the 34 measures ranked by the 2015 America’s Health Ranking, placing it in 44th place, up three spots from 47th last year.

The 26th annual ranking, which calls itself “the country’s annual health checkup,” examines criteria such as behavior, community, environment, policy and clinical care. The report provides a benchmark for how a state’s health changes from year to year, but is also meant to fuel dialogue that leads to action.

Kentucky leads the nation in cancer deaths (228.8 per 100,000 people) and preventable hospitalizations (85.1 per 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries). It ranks among the bottom five states for five other measures: smoking, drug deaths, children in poverty, poor mental-health days and poor physical-health days.

Additionally, the state ranked in the bottom 10 states for physical activity, air pollution, diabetes, cardiovascular deaths and premature deaths.

The report also noted Kentucky’s strengths: the state has a low violent crime rate, a low prevalence of binge drinking, a high rate of high school graduation, a big decrease in the number of people without health insurance, and a 40 percent increase in female human papillomavirus vaccines, which target the HPVs that most commonly cause cervical cancer.

“A significant drop in the number of uninsured Kentuckians and an increase in preventive HPV vaccinations were two factors contributing to our rise in the annual rankings,” Susan Zepeda, president of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said in news release. Here are some details from the report:

Kentucky has the nation’s second highest smoking rate, 26.2 percent, barely trailing West Virginia’s 26.7 percent. The national smoking rate is 18.1 percent, down from 19 percent last year. “Smoking is the U.S.’s leading cause of preventable death,” says the report.

The state also has the second highest rate of children who live in poverty, at 30.3 percent, a decrease from last year’s rate of 31.8 percent. The national rate is 21.1 percent, which is up from 19.9 percent last year. “Children in poverty are three times more likely to have unmet health needs than other children,” says the report.

Kentucky’s diabetes rate has hovered around 10.6 percent for the past three years, but this year it saw an 18 percent increase to 12.5 percent, causing it to rise to sixth in the nation for diabetes from 18th. The national diabetes rate is 10 percent. Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S., says the report.

Kentucky’s adult obesity rate dropped to 31.6 percent from 33.2 percent last year, causing it to drop to 12th in the nation for adult obesity from fifth. Nationally, 29.6 percent of adults are obese..

During a phone interview in November, state obesity-prevention coordinator Elaine Russell attributed thie drop in Kentucky’s rate to the state’s many obesity-related initiatives. “It is a comprehensive effort of many different programs, because we are all working toward the same goal to decrease chronic disease and obesity,” she told Kentucky Health News.

Kentucky ranks third in drug overdose deaths at 24 deaths per 100,000 (the same rate as last year), compared to 13.5 nationally. Drug overdose is the leading cause of injury death in the U.S., says the report.

“This report is a call to action to make disease prevention a key component of our culture,” Reed Tuckson, external senior medical adviser to United Health Foundation, said in the release. “We want to ensure everybody, no matter what state they call home, is empowered to make healthy decisions for themselves, their families and their communities.”

Hawaii, for the fourth consecutive year, remains the healthiest state and Louisiana is ranked last.

The report, published by United Health in partnership with the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention, uses data from well-recognized outside sources, such as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, FBI, Dartmouth Atlas Project, U.S. Department of Education and Census Bureau.

To see the rankings in full, visit

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